Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson, KC

Kil ‘yahda sing.Ga suu | Haida laws ceremony
Douglas C. Harris; Michael Jackson, KC
Skidegate, Haida Gwaii
Cordula and Gunter Paetzold Fellowship

Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson is a citizen of the Haida Nation, Haida Gwaii. She belongs to the Gaagyals KiiGawaay Clan (Those-Born-at-a-Reef-Called Gaagyals), otherwise known as the Skedans Ravens. She follows her mother Gaajiiaawa Mabel Williams and the women of the Skedans Ravens. While they are matrilineal, they recognize their fathers; her father was Godfrey Collinson Williams, who was the son of the late Hereditary Chief of Skidegate, Lewis Collinson. She was raised in Skidegate, Haida Gwaii and holds three Haida names: lalaxaaygans, gid7ahl-Gudsllaay, and Gaadaaldyas.

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I have had a fulfilling career before I returned for a Master of Laws degree after 20 years in private law practice. Yet, I desired more sophisticated tools to realize my ancestors’ dreams to achieve recognition and implementation of Haida title and legal orders. My Master of Laws research created a culturally relevant framework to support the analysis of Haida laws called “Ts’uu JaasGalang HlGaajuu (Cedar Sisters Framework)”. My PhD research will engage with this framework with the Haida Nation as co-researchers, to achieve sovereignty over legal traditions. I see my role as a graduate student as fulfilling a sacred responsibility to share my cultural knowledge and legal experience with the Haida community, but in a way that creates space for Haida Elders, knowledge-holders, and youth. Together, we will document and theorize Haida laws through place-based activities and inter-generational knowledge transfer, thereby contributing to a growing body of decolonization theory.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

I am Indigenous to this Province. I live in Haida Gwaii and on the territory of the Semiahmoo Nation. UBC is ideal for the location, and because it facilitates ongoing connections with my nation and homeland of Haida Gwaii.

What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?

The Peter A. Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia is a leader in Indigenous legal education. I desired continuity, building upon my Master of Laws research with the same supervisory committee, which includes Professor Douglas Harris, whose research specializes in Aboriginal fisheries regulations, and Emeritus Professor Michael Jackson KC, who has argued landmark cases of Aboriginal law in Canada. Both have advocated for space for Indigenous Laws before it was common parlance in Canada.

What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?

When I finished my second undergraduate degree in 1995, I thought I had finished my formal education and would not return to UBC. Upon my return twenty years later, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed graduate studies and new intellectual challenges.

The Peter A. Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia is a leader in Indigenous legal education. [My research supervisors] have advocated for space for Indigenous Laws before it was common parlance in Canada.
What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?

I am extremely excited to take a decolonizing approach to my research. Working with Haida Elders and knowledge-holders as co-researchers, we will implement traditional Haida cultural practices to share knowledge and discuss Haida laws as they have been recorded in oral history, historic and ethnographic records, contemporary governance documents, current practices, and in the Haida language itself. These will be analyzed using a distinctively Haida framework that privileges the Haida Supernatural worldview and Supernatural Beings, from which Haida laws derive. I am most excited about this theoretical framework that is premised on centering Indigenous knowledge and methodologies to shift power to the Haida Nation, and presenting research conclusions in a way that is culturally-responsive and mobilizes into social justice.

What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?

After attaining a law degree from UBC, I co-founded the charity Environment-Aboriginal Guardianship through Law and Education (“EAGLE”) that donated legal and educational services to Indigenous communities to protect the environment. I have represented the Haida Nation in litigation and negotiation since 1995, including litigating the landmark 2004 Haida Nation v. British Columbia (Minister of Forests) case that established a legal duty upon Crown governments to not only consult, but accommodate, Indigenous interests affected by development proposals. In 2006, I established White Raven Law to support my nation’s efforts to protect Haida Gwaii, language, and culture for future generations, and completed depositions of 15 Elders. My Computer Science degree grounds my digital law practice that employs artificial intelligence to assist with the e-discovery of millions of documents. I lead the Haida Nation’s legal team, consisting of senior and renown litigators.

What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?

I deeply value cultural grounding, fostered through participating in ceremonies, Potlatches, and Feasts as a singer and dancer. I enjoy a variety of artistic expression, such as traditional Raven's Tail weaving. Fitness and gardening are also deeply relaxing and help to reconnect with my spirit, which in turn helps with developing solutions to current quandaries that, until then, had been elusive.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

Depending on where your career will take you, you may not have the same opportunity of concentrated learning that graduate studies provide. I found that fostering a mindset of gratitude and treating graduate studies as a luxury, meant to be savoured, was most helpful to getting through the intensive reading.

Outside of your academic work, what are the ways that you engage with your local or global community? Are there projects in particular that you are proud of?

I am an artist, musician, author, activist, lawyer, and student dedicated to the resurgence of Haida culture. I am deeply involved in a wide range of community activities and have a longstanding interest in the study and perpetuation of the Haida songs, dances, language, and artistic expressions. My earliest passion was fueled by the suppression of these traditions: my father, aunts, uncles, and cousins went to residential school. The Haida language was taken at these institutions such that it is now endangered. As a result, I learned Haida songs from archival recordings with translations from my mother, and in 1978 I became a lead-singer in a children’s dance group that we co-founded—the first since Canada’s Potlatch prohibition. I now dance, sing, and make regalia for Rainbow Creek Dancers, who share culture at Potlatches, ceremonies, festivals, and exhibits globally. I produced two box sets of traditional, archival music for the Haida Gwaii Singers Society and released two contemporary Haida music albums. I became a Haida language student two years ago with the Skidegate Haida Immersion Program and the Haida Gwaii Master-Apprenticeship Program, the latter with esteemed Elder GwaaGanad, Diane Brown. I am also an educator about the Haida Supernatural worldview through an adult and two best-selling children’s publications, three solo exhibitions, participation in a national exhibition of 50 Indigenous women who “stand as Defenders of their cultural sovereignty”, and a music album in the Haida language.


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