#365 Indigenous: Ardith (Walpetko We’dalx) Walkem

Ardith Walkem is a member of the Nlaka’pamux Nation and grew up in Spence’s Bridge, Salmon Arm and Chilliwack. 

A formidable force for justice, Walkem is the trailblazing first Indigenous woman to be appointed as a judge to the BC Supreme Court. Called to the bar in 1996, Walkem practiced with Cedar and Sage Law, working with aboriginal communities asserting their Treaty rights, and to have Aboriginal title recognized and upheld.  She also taught at the  UBC Allard Law School and for the Institute of Indigenous Government. In addition to her scholarship, Walkem is a poet, two-spirited woman, and mom to two fierce daughters.

In her work as a jurist and scholar, her work has been dedicated to finding ways to make space within the Canadian legal system for the recognition of Indigenous laws, with a particular focus on child and family wellness. Author of “Wrapping Our Ways Around Them: Indigenous Communities Child Welfare,” her work supports Indigenous communities in implementing their own child welfare laws or to work within existing child welfare regimes, and to educate the legal community on how to work effectively with Indigenous peoples.

Walkem has provided legal analysis, advice and direction to the Union of BC Indian Chiefs for decades, serving as a bridge of understanding between environmental laws and policies of the Crown and the inherent laws of Indigenous title and rights.

“Courts have tended to recognize provincial and federal jurisdiction,” Walkem says. “There’s been an absence of recognition of Indigenous jurisdiction. What I’d like to see is … for the constitutional discussion around Indigenous people’s rights to focus not on mere discrete practices or activities but on the Indigenous laws which animate Aboriginal rights and title.”

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