August 24, 2016
Affectionately referred to as “aunty” amongst Indigenous students at the Allard School of Law, Dana-Lyn Mackenzie is the Associate Director of the Indigenous Legal Studies Program. Whether it’s advising Indigenous students on course selection, connecting students with alumni or advocating for the Indigenous community within the law school and the University, Dana-Lyn plays an important role amongst the Indigenous study body. Her efforts were recently recognized with the prestigious President’s Staff Award for Advancing Diversity and Inclusion.
“I was pleased to hear that Dana-Lyn Mackenzie has been awarded this prestigious award. Dana-Lyn's dedication to students is evident from the many alumni that return to volunteer, donate or contribute to the Indigenous student community,” said Randy Robinson, who graduated from the Allard School of Law earlier this year. “While enrolled in the Indigenous Legal Studies Program I could count on Dana-Lyn for a variety of student supports. Her inclusive approach to student engagement bolstered reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. Dana-Lyn also provided guidance pertaining to academic and legal skills while I attended the Indigenous Community Legal Clinic. Overall, her compassionate and tireless guidance of the Indigenous student body left a lasting impression that I will take with me as I enter the profession.”
We’re pleased to present the following interview with Dana-Lyn, touching on some career highlights and what drives her.
What have been some career achievements that you’re most proud of?
One initiative I’m really proud of is getting the Specialization in Aboriginal Law off the ground. Now we have a lot of students, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, who apply for the Specialization every year.
The other initiative I’m really proud of is the Indigenous Awareness Camp. It’s at a point now where people are talking about their experiences and we’re getting inquiries from firms asking if they can sponsor the event, which is fabulous. I’ve had non-Indigenous students come up to me and say that it was a highlight of their whole first year, which is a pretty fantastic thing.
And, I am also proud of my work at the Indigenous Community Legal clinic. I work there one day a week, as a practicing pro bono lawyer, and am there as the students' dedicated advisor, whether they are indigenous or not. I check in with them on their wellness and how they are coping, and generally support them. Many of the Indigenous Legal Studies Program students take the clinic, but it is also a great way for me to get to know the non-indigenous students.
Can you talk a little about the Indigenous Awareness Camp and how that came about?
The camp provides an opportunity for first year law students to spend a weekend learning about Coast Salish culture. We canoe with representatives from the Tsleil-Waututh Nation up the Indian Arm to Granite Falls, a place that is inaccessible by road and camp overnight.
The camp helps bring awareness and understanding of the Indigenous legal perspectives and Indigenous culture to first year law students. It’s also a way for these students to bond and form friendships.
As the recipient of the President’s Staff Award for Advancing Diversity and Inclusion, what are your priorities when it comes to achieving diversity and inclusion at the law school?
Awareness of Indigenous issues is a really key part of the Indigenous Legal Studies Program. The Program is there to shepherd and support Indigenous students through their three years of law school. I wear many hats here including, working alongside Academic Services, Admissions, Career Services and Alumni relations. But I think an important role for me is bringing awareness of Indigenous issues to the Faculty and to the non-Indigenous student population.
I’ve worked closely with the Indigenous Law Students Association to promote and build upon activities that they’re doing, such as events like the Sisters in Spirit vigil for murdered and missing Indigenous women. It’s important to bring awareness that there’s a vibrant indigenous student body here and that Indigenous people are more than what you see in the news.
I think it’s also really important for the non-Indigenous students to recognize that there is a lot of diversity within the Indigenous study body itself, including where people are in their journey with their own identity. Some people have always been aware of their Indigenous identity and have grown up in it. And others, because of the residential school system or because of their parents’ or grandparents’ reluctance to engage, have only recently became aware of their Métis, Inuit or First Nations identity. So everybody is on a different point on their journey of discovery.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
In a lot of First Nations cultures, the aunty plays a role as a mentor and as a source of sober second thought. And the students have said to me that I’m like an honorary aunty to them. Students will tell me that I’ve made a difference in their life and that’s the most meaningful and wonderful thing in the world. And sometimes you don’t realize that you have that opportunity to help out other people. It’s easy to lose sight sometimes of what makes this job really special. What makes this job special is the opportunity to work with some really amazing people.