Chelsey Legge (1L)
After six years of studying Canada’s residential school system and collecting survivors’ stories, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) released the summary of its final report in June. Incorporating discussions of the history and legacies of residential schools, the summary makes 94 Calls to Action aimed at improving the lives of Aboriginal people in Canada and helping to build a mutually respectful relationship between the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples of Canada.
There are two Calls to Actions explicitly directed at the Federation of Law Societies and law schools:
We call upon the Federation of Law Societies of Canada to ensure that lawyers receive appropriate cultural competency training, which includes the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations. This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.
We call upon law schools in Canada to require all law students to take a course in Aboriginal people and the law, which includes the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations. This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.
Professor Kent Roach, who spent two years working with the TRC, said these Calls to Action are “demanding” and that they “will require the faculty to make considerable and perhaps painful changes and investments.”
Other Calls to Action are also relevant. For example, #7 addresses the educational gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Canada. Professor Roach pointed out that “of the eight offers we made to Indigenous students last year, only two decided to attend. We need to listen to Indigenous students past, present and prospective to learn how the faculty can become more welcoming and respectful.”
The Aboriginal Law Students’ Association (ALSA) here at U of T Law has consistently advocated for the inclusion of Aboriginal law and Indigenous laws in the Faculty’s curriculum, programming, and resources. This past summer, following the release of the TRC summary, ALSA sent a letter to the Dean’s Office calling on the Faculty of Law to implement the Calls to Action. In response, the faculty created an advisory committee which will make recommendations to Dean Iacobucci on how to move forward.
The advisory committee will meet later this month. The chairs are Professor Mayo Moran, who served as Dean of the Faculty of Law from 2006 until 2014, and Professor Douglas Sanderson, the Aboriginal Students’ Faculty Advisor. Representatives from ALSA and the SLS are sitting on the committee, as is Promise Holmes Skinner, the acting Aboriginal Law Program Coordinator. In preparation for their first meeting, all of the committee members have been reading and reviewing the TRC’s summary.
During discussions held in March, ALSA suggested a mandatory first year Aboriginal law course (UBC has one), but the response was “not optimistic.” ALSA Co-President Autumn Johnson says they were told “a number of considerations would need to be taken into account but that there may be other ways to include Aboriginal law in the general courses. Specific concerns were that requiring first year professors to cover Aboriginal law in their curriculum raises issues of academic freedom and the issue that not everyone is comfortable in this area of law.” Professor Sanderson suggested that when the first year professors meet in groups, they could discuss ways of including Aboriginal law as part of their courses. Those professors who feel more comfortable in this area could share ideas and materials with the others who are more hesitant.
Another major topic of discussion was the selection of upper year courses. Out of the discussion came six Aboriginal Law Workshops, three of which have already taken place. Various practitioners and academics come in to do a presentation on a topic in Aboriginal law which is followed by discussion. The workshops are open to everyone, and Autumn says they have had “an excellent turn-out.” ALSA also suggested to Professor Katherine Hensel that the course on Aboriginal People in the Criminal Justice System be reworked slightly to meet the requirements for a perspectives course, so more students might take advantage of it.
ALSA’s efforts before and after the release of the summary are impressive, and the Faculty’s first steps are promising. For this process to flourish, however, it requires the engagement of the whole law school. As members of the legal community, this issue deserves our attention.Professor Roach said the Calls to Action “provide the Faculty with an opportunity to do serious soul searching and curriculum reform. The responsibility for the hard work that needs to be done should not be put only on a few faculty or a few students who are concerned and active on these issues: we all need to work on understanding what has gone terribly wrong in the past and make steps to improve things in the future.”