Indigenous Legal Responses to a Historic Year
Q&A’s with Gavin Wilkes
Where are you from? What place do you currently call home and why?
I call two places home, one being Peace River in Alberta where my father lives and Fort Simpson in the Northwest Territories where my mother lives. I have fond memories of each place, and I have learned many things during my time in both places.
Currently, I live in Edmonton Alberta where I am a second-year law student at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Law. So for the past couple of years, and for the next few Edmonton will be my home.
What community/communities are you part of ?
The communities I am a part of are my Dene Indigenous community back home with friends, family, and some elders back in Fort Simpson, the Indigenous legal community through the Indigenous Law Students’ Association (ILSA), the broader legal community through my law school peers, and the theatre community here in Edmonton from my background education and personal interests.
What are you passionate about? What are your hobbies?
I am passionate about Indigenous advocacy, equitable and fair representation by and within the legal system, and storytelling. These passions on the legal side stem from my love of philosophy, which I was exposed to in my undergraduate degree. The Indigenous focus of some of my passions comes from my identity and my journey to help in ways within my capacity and within my ability because of the privileges I have been able to experience and take advantage of.
Some of my hobbies are acting, playwriting, reading, writing, playing soccer, badminton, golf, and weightlifting. I find that my current education keeps me sitting down and focusing on a screen for many hours of the day, so I like to make sure that my hobbies give me the chance to move, get outside, and make sure my physical fitness is in check.
How did the idea for this project come to you?
The idea of the project came from one of my law school peers, Justin Hjlesvold, who came up with the plan of a virtual Speaker Series event so many different Indigenous speakers could discuss topics of importance from various parts of the country. The name of the project was “Indigenous Legal Responses to an Historic Year”.
When I was asked to take part in the event, I did not hesitate to give my efforts to this project. It was amazing to have legal professionals, scholars, academics, and activists come to speak to Indigenous perspectives and experiences in varying fields during the pandemic when it was in its first year.
What was your motivation behind this project?
The motivation behind the project was that as executive members of the Indigenous Law Students’ Association (ILSA), it was important that we plan, organize, and structure an event that could be attended by people within the Faculty of Law, the broader U of A community, Edmonton community, and then across the country. Further, the project gave people the chance to come to an educational event that did not require costs of travel or attendance.
How did your community react to your project? Have they been encouraged to get involved in any other ways?
The student body at the Faculty of Law well attended the event, as well as faculty members and the public community. It was a success and it was a great event that I think led to many people leaving the week with a sense of encouragement to get more involved with Indigenous initiatives and discussion, especially on how the pandemic had affected so many Indigenous communities and nations.
In retrospect, what was the impact of your project?
At the time it was, to me, more of an event that was just to be put on to give people a chance to learn materials and knowledge from an Indigenous-driven focus, but it grew to be much more than that. It was a chance for people to come together during a time of isolation, and the virtual aspect gave the project an even broader reach which was a huge positive. Accessibility is always an important and key aspect of event planning when I am involved with events and initiatives, and this was a case of changing the negative perspective of online participation into the positivity of ease of accessibility.
How has the project impacted you in your everyday life?
The project put me out there as a #RisingYouth alumnus, which eventually led to opportunities to be involved in alumni collaborations, speak at a national event that featured some amazing Indigenous artists, creators, and activists, and then towards the opportunity to be an Indigenous Mentor with TakingITGlobal.
I know it was also not just a project that ended and that was it, it was an experience that created new forms of thinking, opportunities for collaboration, and the ability to meet so many amazing people. Your project is more than a project, and if you let it, it can be a catalyst for personal development and an explosion of opportunity. As an alumnus, you will continue to be included in initiatives and the many amazing conversations.
Were there some bumps along the road or things you may do differently in the future?
Some bumps in the road along the way in the Speaker Series project was that some speakers could not make it, and it became a well-fought battle of being on top of communications, creative thinking on speaker replacement, and being determinative to make sure that we could stick to our timelines.
What would you say to a youth who is thinking about doing a #RisingYouth project?
I would tell youth that this is one of the best chances you have to actualize your dream idea because not only do you have the flexibility to create the project how you want, but you will be so supported and encouraged during all stages. The positivity and encouragement you will get from the application to the final report are outstanding. Lastly, even when the project is complete, you will enter into an amazing community of alumni who can be great people to form relationships with, as well as be reached out to to constantly be involved to your level of capacity.