Student stories

Dispute Resolution grad finds career fit at First Nations consultancy

Jessica Dickson

When Calgary native Jessica Dickson was a political science undergraduate at the University of British Columbia after starting her BA at the University of Calgary, like a lot of poli-sci students, she thought the natural progression of her education pointed towards the bar. Consequently, upon receiving her BA, she took a job at a law firm.“At UBC, I started becoming familiar with some of the dispute resolution initiatives that were taking place in civil war contexts and that was really interesting to me,” she says. “Then when I went to the law firm, it kind of solidified for me that maybe litigation as an approach to conflict resolution wasn’t always the best one. So I applied to UVic.”

While pursuing UVic’s Master of Arts in Dispute Resolution, Dickson quickly found her path, one she said she would have never anticipated. This was largely due to her co-op experience. “I came to understand and be exposed to the BC treaty negotiation process through my co-op placement as an evaluation analyst at Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada,” she says. “I worked for the audit and evaluations sector, looking at whether treaty initiatives are achieving results for First Nations and government.”

Dickson made reconciliation with First Nations her goal. “Through my master’s thesis [entitled "Addressing Disputes Between First Nations: An Exploration of the Indigenous Legal Lodge"], I furthered my understanding of First Nations relationships with the Crown,” she says. Ultimately, she learned that the past still resonates very much in the present for BC First Nations.

Since defending her thesis in November 2011, Dickson has moved out of the public sector and into the private sector, and the change has been significant. “I went from working for the biggest organizations in Canada to working for a growing consultancy,” says Dickson, who now works as a consultant and project manager with the Castlemain Group, an industry-leading First Nations economic development advisory and communications firm. “First Nations have a lot of demands placed on them from resource development and are faced with important decisions in their territories,” she explains. “The work environment and pace is a lot different from government.”

Dickson’s understanding of the processes of dispute resolution has become more holistic as a result of her experience. “The links between dispute resolution, governance, economic development and all of those processes that a community undertakes to move forward together will be my focus for the future,” she says.

More about Public administration and dispute resolution co-op