As a screen projected the sight and sounds of a gurgling river and researchers dove into their work, the DDR (Dispute Resolution Room and formerly known as the Moot Courtroom) was literally flowing with student energy at the 6th annual Research-a-thon on February 10. Throughout the day, almost 50 participants played a part in the focus of the day: river protections.
A Research-a-thon is a one-day event where students gather to generate research that supports public interest environmental law in BC and Canada. The goal of this year’s Research-a-thon was to create a research base that the ELC can draw from in our work towards improving protections rivers and watersheds. Volunteers examined international examples of river systems that have been granted holistic, whole-of-river protections that respect the importance of riparian watersheds and address the cumulative effects that slip through the cracks of segmented protection regimes. Students were directed to dive into domestic and international examples of legal decisions, frameworks, and waterways that have been granted some degree of whole-of-river protection.
From Finland to New Zealand and at least 21 places in between, students spent the day identifying frameworks, legal and policy tools, governance structures, agreements, decisions and associated implications, enforcement, effects on local communities and economies, effects on ecosystems, and implications for state regulation.
Lunchtime guest speaker Bev Sellars, former councillor and chief of the Xat’sull (Soda Creek) First Nation in Williams Lake, BC, drove home the point about the dire need to protect rivers, and not just pieces here and there – whole rivers and systems – in order to save our “natural economy.”
Raised in her culture to annually fish the canyons of the Fraser River – a “magical and social time of year” for her community – and to treat lands and waters as gardens, Bev spoke about the changes and deterioration she’s seen over time: to the river, to salmon, and to animals in her territory. In fact, she quit eating fish from the Fraser River. It was especially poignant when she said, “My grandchildren will never know the magic and joy of fishing the river.”
Bev shared with students that she’s hoping the Research-a-thon will help to identify a variety of solutions to help protect the environment before it’s too late. She also hopes that raising the current issues will help people think more broadly about the inherent connection of all natural systems, the need to protect whole systems and to consider looking seven generations ahead when making decisions that affect lands and waters.
Environmental Law Club members Zoey Schutz and Nick Noble, the two lead student organizers of this year’s event, were pleased with the turnout and initial assessment of the research.
Zoey noted that while most of the 45 people who contributed to the collected research were from UVic Law, there was also one UVic undergrad, one UBC law student, and three TRU law students. Nick added, “It’s visible in the participants’ write-ups that our researchers are very smart, passionate people who felt a true strength of purpose in the work they were doing.”
I loved the concept [Bev Sellars] described in the “natural economy” vs the “money economy.” The natural economy is what sustains us – the water, the soil, the materials we use to build our tools and homes. The money economy, when you boil it down, is nothing but numbers floating in the air; as Bev said, when the money economy fails but the natural economy is resilient, we can still thrive as a species, but if the reverse is true, that’s when survival is threatened. And yet, when we speak of the economy as a singular whole, we tend to center on the money economy. The importance of drawing this distinction really spoke to me and I think it really cuts to the heart of environmentalism and the importance of meaningfully working Indigenous laws into our society.Nick Noble (1L), Student organizer