At 9am on Friday, February 8, snow was falling thick and fast in Victoria. On a day when no regular classes were scheduled at the Faculty of Law, many people may have been tempted to stay at home. But weather didn’t stop the 33 volunteer law students who dove into a full day of researching two streams of law for Research-a-thon 2019: Colonial and Indigenous.
This year’s topic was water law and governance in British Columbia, focusing on the Nicola Valley, which has been hit hard by drought, floods, and water-quality concerns. This specific area was chosen for the Research-a-thon because of an innovative agreement signed in 2018 between five of the Nicola Valley Chiefs and the Province of British Columbia. The Nicola Watershed Pilot Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is a new way to coordinate and plan for sustainable water management in the region. In contrast to early colonial water law licensing regimes, which doled out thousands of water licences with no consideration as to the impact on the ability to continue to fish, harvest from wetlands, or continue cultural practices, the MOU is a joint government-to-government statement that acknowledges Indigenous jurisdiction of water and traditional territories.
For their Research-a-thon contribution, each student investigated an aspect of Colonial water law and examined a First Nations story for evidence of Syilx and Nlaka’pamux peoples’ laws relating to, and their relationships with, water.
Participants took a lunchtime break to hear from ELC’s Executive Director and water law expert Deborah Curran; and – via videoconference – Alex Etchell, who works with the Water Funders Collaborative and Nicola Valley Chiefs; and two of the Nicola Valley Chiefs: Chief Harvey McLeod of the Upper Nicola Band, and Chief Aaron Sumexheltza of the Lower Nicola Indian Band. Both Chiefs spoke eloquently about the vital importance of water to all who live in the Nicola Watershed and the pressing need for all stakeholders to work together to protect water resources. Volunteer researchers from Thompson Rivers University also attended the talk via videoconference.
Research-a-thon 2019 was the culmination of months of planning by the student-run Environmental Law Club, in partnership with the Law Library, the Indigenous Law Research Unit (ILRU), and the Environmental Law Centre (ELC). The event built on the success of the inaugural Research-a-thon 2018, where students unearthed the history of mining law in British Columbia. The outputs of student research from the 2018 event —a timeline and a report— continue to inform efforts to reform mining laws in the province. In the coming months, students will work with ELC and ILRU staff to draw together the day’s research into useful material to inform the Nicola Watershed process as well as future research and teaching.
It was inspiring to participate in such a pragmatic and topical event. Too often, Water gets overlooked because of our relative abundance in British Columbia, and Indigenous perspectives have been essentially absent from most conversations around water management. It was an honour to participate in an event which brought these two issues together. Hearing from Chief McLeod and Chief Sumexheltza on what is happening in the Nicola Watershed really brought to light the incredible impact this student research is going to have in revitalizing indigenous law and sustainable water governance.Conner Wear (3rd year UVic Law student)
The second annual Research-a-thon “Getting Current with the Current” was a whirlwind in the best possible way. Over the course of the day, 33 students from UVic and 7 students from TRU tackled a wide-ranging list of research questions all aimed at better understanding Indigenous and colonial water law in the Nicola Valley and across the province. In total, students contributed over 120 hours of research and completed 98 legal research questions.
As the Environmental Law Club, we see events like this as an incredible opportunity for students to develop their legal research skills and a big win for public interest environmental law in BC. Outcomes from this year’s event will support Indigenous nations, environmental organizations and the public alike in their work to promote collaborative, sustainable water resource management in the province.
Witnessing months of work organizing the event translate into a room full of student researchers, librarians, and UVic faculty and staff was an incredible experience. As the event planning group, we are hugely grateful to our event partners, the Environmental Law Centre, Indigenous Legal Research Unit, Diana M. Priestly Law Library Services, the Okanagan (Syilx) Nation, Nlaka’pamux Nation and the Thompson Rivers University Science and Law Club for their countless hours of support for this event. We would also like to thank Deborah Curran, Chief Harvey McLeod, Chief Aaron Sam and Aaron Sam for their participation on our lunchtime panel.
Finally, we would like to thank our event sponsors: Diana M. Priestly Law Library Services, UVic Environmental Law Club, Environmental Law Centre, Valhalla Pure Outfitters, David’s Tea, Root Cellar Village Green Grocer, Discovery Coffee, Market on Yates, Ocean River Sports, and CineVic Independent Filmmakers Society.
Frances Ankenman (2nd year UVic law student)