By: Beth Kotierk
The 2016 Indigenous Bar Association Conference entitled “Redefining Relationships: With or Without You” was hosted in Musqueam Territory. There was a record-breaking student count at this year’s conference, which created a particular energy in the air - one that was forward-thinking and hopeful.
In our corner of the legal profession, women seem to outnumber the men and being surrounded by so many successful and inspiring Indigenous women was a rare and special experience. Looking around the conference, you could see distinguished and influential Indigenous lawyers and advocates. A deep respect for the work that has been done, and continues to be done by these individuals emerges as you navigate the conference and catch glimpses of their laughs and conversations.
The conference was filled with speakers that inspired and motivated like Senator Murray Sinclair, Jeffrey Hewitt, Dr. Val Napoleon, Dr. Tracy Lindberg, Tanya Kappo, and Jean Teillet. All speakers spoke so eloquently - from their hearts - encouraging us all to remain critical and compassionate.
A common message of many of the speakers was to remember to love your communities more than you love yourself; a humble and powerful request of us. These tugs of responsibility and obligations, depending on your discipline, are overwhelming in isolation. Our ability to gather together and talk about culture, histories and current issues affecting our communities revealed the passion and pain of legal pursuits.
Val Napoleon, an absolute idol, was awarded the Annual IBA award this year at the gala. Val Napoleon was honoured by traditional Musqueam dancers and drummers; the ceremony was the most moving and beautiful honouring I have seen in a long time. I have a deep respect for this phenomenal leader and woman. A sense of joy, encouragement and connectedness filled the room during the gala, thinking about how far Indigenous peoples have come in our common struggle with the Canadian government; to be recognized and respected as nations.
Attending the conference provided us the opportunity to imagine what the future holds.This is only possible through the hard work of our community members and our women. Qujannamiik to the Indigenous Bar Association for being a revitalizing experience and support network for so many Indigenous women and female-identified Indigenous people.
Beth Kotierk is the daughter of Apayata and Juliet Kotierk from Igloolik, Nunavut. She is currently in her second year of law school at the University of Ottawa.