May 1, 2020
In this Summer Student Retrospective series, four law students who worked with us last summer reflect on their experiences.
East Coast Environmental Law (ECELAW) is an organization to which I am very grateful. As a young law student, the opportunities I have gained from working with this organization are immense. When I first entered the legal field at the Schulich School of Law I was unsure of the type of work I wanted to do. It was through the Schulich School of Law’s Pro Bono program that I learned about ECELAW and their advocacy work. I have always been environmentally conscious and saw an opportunity to combine two of my interests. If that had been the extent of ECELAW’s value to me that would have been enough, but in addition I found an organization doing fascinating and important work in the areas of Environmental and Indigenous issues.
I first worked with ECELAW in the context of their Information Library. This resource acts as an effective means by which community members can reach out and learn what legal tools are available to them when communities are faced with environmental degradation. In this capacity I was able to engage in valuable work that also proved an important exercise for my legal education. Examining caselaw and legislation increased my understanding of the state of the law in this area and made me a better legal researcher. I also worked for ECELAW as a legal researcher in the area of Nova Scotia municipal planning in the agricultural context. This was a deeply interesting area of study where the balance between economic and environmental concerns often clash.
Last summer I had my first experience working for ECELAW on a paid internship basis, which has proved the most important experience of my time with them. My previous work with the organization had focused strictly on environmental issues in a non-Indigenous context. Through my internship work I have expanded my horizons of understanding, allowing me to see the extent to which the environmental struggle in Atlantic Canada is entwined with the Indigenous struggle for the recognition of Aboriginal and treaty rights. My work at this stage has involved collecting together caselaw from the Atlantic provinces with regards to Indigenous harvesting cases, as well as those involving claims in relation to land and the environment.
The purpose of this work has been to expand ECELAW’s Information Library. While my previous work on the Library was important, after going through the Aboriginal and treaty rights caselaw I found it necessary to reconsider just how connected these struggles are. While the Indigenous cases involving harvesting rights and the right to hunt and fish could appear on their face counterintuitive to the advancement of wider environmental concerns, such thinking is a mistake that discounts the fact that reconciliation between Indigenous communities and settler society is required to advance wider change. The rights of these communities, and the historic abuse of them, impacts the present struggle. Treaty and Aboriginal rights must be supported, both on humanitarian grounds, and as part of advancing sustainable land use in this country.
The fact that ECELAW is committed to both of these seemingly separate issues is vitally important, and for me personally has sparked a commitment to continuing to focus on these issues as I move forward in my legal studies and into my legal career. Awareness is key, and the fact that people not trained in the law sometimes do not understand the law can inadvertently or otherwise make it difficult for communities to effectively stand up for themselves. Through resources such as ECELAW’s Information Library, organizations can give people the tools to advance the interest of themselves and their communities.
Anna's work with us was supported by the Canada Summer Jobs Program.