Ask the Experts
Updated: Nov 15, 2021
By Columnist Glenn McAleer
I had the opportunity to sit down with Amelia Harman and Erin Ramsperger, the 2021-2022 co-presidents of the Indigenous Law Students’ Association (ILSA). The ILSA supports Indigenous students in the faculty in a myriad of ways, through mentorship, one-on-one chats, and awareness campaigns about issues that affect Indigenous students. The ILSA is trying to grow their online exposure and stay active on campus. This year already, they have hosted an Orange Shirt Day sale where they raised a thousand dollars for the Indigenous Residential School Survivors Society.
3Ls Erin Ramsperger and Amelia Harman, co-presidents of UCalgary's ILSA
“Tell me about yourselves as law students. What are your areas of interest?”
Erin: I came into law school fully intending to do criminal defence work. Prior to law school, I worked with people who had been through the criminal justice system. When I got here, I realized it may not be the area I want to practice in, but I will be articling at Calgary Legal Guidance and I will be doing some work within the criminal sphere there. I am still trying to figure it out, but I know I need to address Indigenous injustice in some way that will be fulfilling for me.
Amelia: I am interested in Indigenous law, energy law, environmental law, and the intersection between these areas.
“How do you view the intersection between environmental law and Indigenous law?”
Amelia: Indigenous law refers to Indigenous legal systems and orders that are rooted in Indigenous culture, communities, and traditions. Indigenous law is distinct from Aboriginal law. Although environmental law and Indigenous law both consider our relationships with the natural environment, Indigenous law, unlike environmental law, is not rooted in the common law. In the context of environmental stewardship and addressing climate change, environmental law can learn from Indigenous law. Indigenous law must be considered in environmental decision-making.
“What spurred your involvement with the ILSA?”
Erin: I found out about the ILSA on clubs’ day in 1L. I was not sure exactly how to get involved, but I became active in the club in 2L, and now in 3L, I am co-president with Amelia. I can tell you what inspired me to go to law school. I have worked with people coming out of prisons for over 6 years, focusing primarily on reintegration work with Indigenous men. I grew frustrated with the injustice these men consistently dealt with. My “final straw”, the reason I chose to pursue law, was the Gerald Stanley verdict, where he was acquitted of the killing of Colten Boushie. The next day I went online and ordered my LSAT books. I felt I needed to do something productive with my anger. Joining the ILSA was just a natural step when I got to law school.
“How can the legal profession amplify the TRC calls to action?”
The co-presidents discussed several of the TRC calls to action, focusing on #27 and #28, which call upon the legal profession and law schools to implement education of Indigenous issues, such as the history and treatment of Indigenous people in Canada. Amelia and Erin spoke about taking a more serious approach to the calls to action by taking steps to create a tangible difference in the legal community at the University of Calgary. Amelia believes that The Path – a mandatory online learning module for law students and legal professionals in Alberta, is a step in the right direction, but it does not relieve the responsibilities of every law school in Canada to implement their own educational tools.
Both Amelia and Erin are highly knowledgeable on this topic, which was actually the initial reason I contacted them for this interview. I could not help but wonder how far their advocacy extends off-campus, as they seem to have a wealth of expertise to offer.
“I am interested in hearing about your personal advocacy efforts off-campus as well – what are some of the highlights of your work or other roles you have played in this regard?”
Erin: I am a youth mentor with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary. It is not specifically an Indigenous agency but does have a strong Indigenous focus. This includes Indigenous programming. In November, the organization is providing a traditional parenting class for people interested in learning non-colonial parenting strategies. In my role, I connect with youth who are currently involved with, or at risk of involvement with, the criminal justice system. We support youth in custody and in the community to provide stability, support, and a positive role model.
Amelia: I volunteered with Stardale Women’s Group as a youth mentor. Stardale provides support and mentorship to Indigenous girls in Calgary. I recently finished my executive role with the National Indigenous Law Student Association. I just finished my role with the Indigenous Student Circle. I am excited to finish my last year of law school with ILSA.
If you are looking to get involved with the ILSA, Amelia and Erin are hard at work planning several events, including a toy drive throughout November for the Stardale Women’s Group, which supports Indigenous girls aged 7-17 in Calgary and the surrounding area. Check out our “What’s Happening on Campus” section for a full list of their upcoming events. You can also engage with the ILSA’s Facebook, Instagram (@ilsa.ucalgary), or Twitter (@ILSA_UCalgary) to get more information and to provide support for this club and its activities.