Linda Locke, QC, “Bringer of Light”
When funding cuts threatened legal aid services across the province, Linda Locke, QC, manager of the Hazelton-based Upper Skeena Counselling and Legal Assistance Society, was not about to close the doors.
The challenge that lay ahead was just another leg of the journey Linda has taken since she found her feet as a lawyer and became the first aboriginal woman in BC appointed a Queen’s Counsel.
A member of the Sto:Lo Nation from the Fraser Valley, Linda began her career as a social worker and later, a probation officer. She observed a frustrating number of people, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal, who had fallen through the cracks in the system and were not getting the help they needed. But it was her work as an Elizabeth Fry court worker that inspired her to consider a career in law.
“I saw lawyers in action and how the court system worked, and things had started to open up for aboriginal people,” Linda says. “The judges encouraged me to consider a career in law, and I started to feel like I belonged in the justice system.”
When Linda decided to attend Queen’s University law school in 1980, she did not know just how profound the experience would be.
“When I was a kid I never thought that I could become anything like a lawyer or a doctor,” says Linda. “That was something unreachable — for rich people.”
“It’s quite amazing that law school freed me because it opened my history to me. It was at law school that I began to yearn for my aboriginal name, Siyamstawel, which means ‘Bringer of Light’.”
It is a name that comes naturally to Linda and her team at the Upper Skeena Counselling and Legal Assistance Society. While many offices shut down in the face of funding cuts, the society had already found other funding sources. With creativity, hard work and dedication, they stayed up and running.
Today, the organization assists aboriginal and non-aboriginal people across Northern BC with everything from poverty and family law to community development initiatives and access to justice issues. Their diversified funding base includes the Law Foundation of BC, Aboriginal Justice Canada, the Skeena Native Development Society and the Royal Bank of Canada. But every day brings new challenges, and demand for legal aid.
“We would never have learned what we have learned if we didn’t have to go through this journey. We had to change in order to survive. Now, we need to evolve to ensure our future stability.”