Weaving culture, law and storytelling into legal guardianship


- Molly Randhawa

Kim Senklip Harvey, a 2023 Vanier Scholar
Kim Senklip Harvey, a 2023 Vanier Scholar (photo supplied)

Kim Senklip Harvey poses a question, one that prompts settlers to re-examine foundational anchors by asking, “when the chips are down, what do we [marginalized communities] turn to? Our culture, our art—that is law. That is a legal assertion of us emphasizing and declaring that our way of living and [Indigenous] pedagogies deserve to be heard.”

Harvey, from the Syilx and Tsilhqot'in nations, is a director, actor, TV writer and recipient of the 2023 Vanier Scholarship. She intertwines storytelling, culture and the nuances of law, offering profound insights into their interconnectedness. Reflecting on this accolade, she sees it as a catalyst—a call to action to utilize culture, art and storytelling to make law more accessible.

As a PhD candidate in Indigenous Law and Governance, her research as a Vanier scholar explores ‘Lawful Cultural Guardianship,’ committed to ‘Creating Stories and Cosmic Constitutions to Nourish the Law of Gwesneh-Gats’i Sedah'—which is the law of life.

After completing her MFA in 2021 and receiving the Governor General's Literary Award for Drama, making her the first Indigenous woman to achieve this honour, Harvey transitioned to studying law and culture. This shift was prompted by a friend's insight, revealing that her diverse creative work, ranging from plays to TV scripts, inherently encompassed elements of legal storytelling.

A lot of my story work involves the rebuilding and affirmation that, even if you were not trained from birth, you have the inalienable right to culture and to your legal orders, because that is what's going to keep you alive. It's what's kept me alive on a holistic level.”

— Kim Senklip Harvey

Harvey sees her work as a cultural gallery—a space dedicated to rebuilding and affirming the rights of all individuals to embrace their cultural heritage and engage in legal orders, regardless of their upbringing.

"I'm a provocateur. That is my job. I'm also an entertainer," Harvey shares. Her unapologetic approach challenges conventional norms, ensuring representation for Indigenous voices in media. She aspires to create a cultural anthology of legal storytelling that protects and represents the rich heritage of her people.

Through teachings from Dr. Val Napolean, the Law Foundation Chair of Indigenous Justice and Governance, and Dr. Rebecca Johnson, her PhD chair and the associate director of the Indigenous Law Research Unit, Harvey has learned that law permeates our daily lives, whether we are aware of it or not. Reflecting on this, Harvey asks, 'how do we reclaim that?' Her answer lies in legal storytelling—an avenue through which she seeks to inspire individuals to actively embrace their cultural heritage and engage courageously with their legal orders.

“[For] thousands and thousands of years, our storytellers would come into ceremonies and political discussions, listen deeply, and reinterpret and create stories to market and remember these important discourses, and then those stories would be passed down.”

— Kim Senklip Harvey

As an orator inheriting stories from an ancestral lineage rooted in oral tradition, Harvey aims to share this narrative work by creating authentic stories that hold significant legal standing within society. She sees her role as a steward of both legal tradition and ancestry, tasked with the responsibility to listen to crucial discussions, reinterpret them and mold them into relatable narratives for broader understanding.

With three years remaining in her Vanier Scholarship tenure, she hopes her research serves as an inspiration, urging people to claim their space and recognize themselves in narratives transcending pain and hardship. As a lawful cultural guardian, her methodology involves preserving, creating and nurturing these stories.


In this story

Keywords: Indigenous, law, research, writing, literature, theatre

People: Kim Senklip Harvey

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