Summer Tyance

The Law and the Land: Legal Scholar Summer Tyance Draws Inspiration from The Earth to Protect It

“I just can't see myself going in any other way other than Indigenous law and protecting the water, the land and our people,” Summer Tyance shares. Originally from Gull Bay First Nation, she grew up in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Her clans are eagle and catfish and she’s spent the last number of years reconnecting with her home community. She is an artist, a poet, a scholar and a podcaster. 

Tyance works at Revitalizing Indigenous Laws for Land, Air and Water as a communications coordinator, telling stories about what communities are working on around this important area of advocacy and a newsletter about Indigenous Protected and Conserved areas. She’ll be moving onto a new adventure after almost a year of hard work. 

Growing up, Tyance was always interested in politics, with her dad as a role model. He pursued his education, learned about the law and talked to her about current events. Her mother is a settler with Ukrainian ancestry. She excelled at reading and writing and struggled with math. She loved learning and wanted to read textbooks and write essays. Her parents encouraged her to pursue her education and her older sister got a master’s degree in environmental science. She felt like if her sister could do it, she could too. 

Indigenous history wasn’t taught much at the Catholic schools Tyance attended but she learned a lot through a cooperative education placement when she was 16. The Thunder Bay courthouse is where she was exposed to the injustices Indigenous people faced within criminal law, working with a Gladue worker. “That really opened my eyes to what I want to do and how I want to continue to learn and move forward with this field,” she explains. 

From there, Tyance pursued her undergraduate degree at UBC, majoring in Indigenous Studies and minoring in political science. She’s since been accepted to three law schools and will be starting a four-year Juris Indigenous Doctorate in law program. Back in 2018, she read about the program in the news and it became her dream to attend. 

“I think I always knew I was going to move away.”

Indigenous student scholarships and support systems drew her to UBC, along with a sense that it was a place where she could feel accepted and nourished. While it was far from home, she wanted to leave the nest and learn more about herself. 

Another place she learned was the Eagle eCommerce program at Emily Carr, which spanned a series of weekends of connecting with other Indigenous youth artists, learning business skills, brand promotion, building websites and making cultural pieces. She made lifelong connections and grew as an artist. 

She has advice for youth considering leaving their home communities to go to university, offering, “It's tough, there are challenges. Just trust your gut, and your intuition… Home is always going to be there, you can always go back home. It's not going anywhere anytime soon.”

Illustration by Shaikara David

That said, she doesn’t believe postsecondary is the only path to success, but she’s glad she did it. 

In considering if it’s worth it to move away, she suggests reflecting on how far away you want to be from your family, how expensive it is to fly home and if you can afford to. She struggled with homesickness but was thankful she had family who could help.  

Sometimes there are obstacles that you'll continue to have to hop over in your life or maybe you will think you've tackled it and it comes back. But I think that's okay.” 

Identity was a struggle Tyance faced in life as a Two-Spirit person, a queer person, and a person of mixed ancestry, feeling pulled in many directions. “I felt like I didn't know who I was, or I felt like who I was wasn't accepted, or really nurtured,” she recalls, reflecting on the absence of queer role models in her life when she was growing up.  

Anxiety is another challenge she faced, suffering a panic attack after an exam. She felt stuck but she connected with an Indigenous counselor she describes as “amazing” who helped her through hard times at school. With accommodations, she was able to continue her studies as a neurodivergent person. She learned to accept the gifts of her differently-wired brain instead of seeing it only as a barrier. 

“Being neurodivergent, it makes me different, but I wouldn't be who I am without that.” 

Always a sensitive soul, in grade five, her teacher reassured her, “if you're nervous, it means you care.” If she could go back in time and tell her younger self something, it would be that caring is cool, explaining,  “It's okay to care about something big or feel nervous about something. Or even crying, if you care about something so much that you're crying. That's strength. That's power.” She felt a lot of shame for crying about things and she wished she knew that caring that much wasn’t shameful.

Traditional medicines like tobacco, sweet grass, sage and cedar, and connecting with her culture by smudging regularly help her balance her mental health.  She also goes to sweats and counselling. Meditation and yoga help slow her brain down and she loves making art, whether it’s beading, painting, or colouring. Drumming is something else she enjoys, as part of a drum group called Moonstone.

To do the work she does, she draws her inspiration from the water and land, having grown up around Lake Superior. Her website says, ‘“Let the Land Inspire You” and when she’s really stuck she does just that, spending time in the trees among the bees and flowers. Meditation and ceremony also inspire her, as do her loved ones. 

Summer Tyance can't see herself going in any other way other than Indigenous law and protecting the water, the land and her people. With grad school on the horizon and a strong sense of who she is and where she’s from, she has so much to look forward to and a lifetime of making a difference still to come. She let herself get inspired by the land, and now she’s going to learn how to take care of it with the law and her education. 

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
    First Nations
  • Province/Territory
  • Date
    June 26, 2024
  • Post Secondary Institutions
    No PSI found.
  • Discussion Guide
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