TRC Implementation Committee Update: No Mandatory Course, For Now

Amani Rauff (2L)

The TRC Implementation Committee presented its final report at the most recent Faculty Council meeting.

The Committee, struck in response to the tabling of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015, has been deliberating on the best method of implementing Call to Action #28:

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.

One option on the table was to institute a mandatory Aboriginal Law course in 1L. The Committee has decided against it for the time being, in favour of an approach that will integrate Aboriginal Law content into existing 1L and Legal Methods course curricula.

Professor Sanderson, in discussing the report, emphasized that the process of educating students on Indigenous peoples’ culture, history, and legal traditions is a continuum: it begins in elementary school and carries on throughout middle school, high school, undergraduate and professional schooling, and into professional development training. Given the poor state of Canadian education about Indigenous peoples, history, and culture at the other levels of schooling, Call to Action #28 creates “in some respects . . . a massive and essentially remedial task of education” for the law school. The scope of this task will lessen over time, says the report, as provincial education systems and undergraduate institutions implement the calls to action targeted toward them. As this happens, and students increasingly come to law school with the necessary background in Canadian history, a mandatory course will become more appropriate.

The Committee further pointed out that the purpose of Call to Action #28 is not to ensure that all students can recite the legal tests for Aboriginal title or the principles for treaty interpretation. Its purpose, said Professor Sanderson, is to “create an environment where Indigenous legal claims are received with a sense of empathy . . . and it’s hard to have empathy if we don’t understand the history and culture of Indigenous peoples.”

The Faculty has taken up a number of initiatives in the months since the Committee’s report was initially submitted to Faculty Council in April. These include: creating a permanent seat at Faculty Council for the Aboriginal Law Students Association; surveying law faculty to get an idea of what was already being taught in terms of Aboriginal law; hiring a research assistant to help faculty who are interested in teaching more Aboriginal law content; purchasing four additional hand drums; and creating two morning sessions on Indigenous legal tradition, taught by Professor Sanderson, in the 1L Legal Methods Course. Finally, Professor Sanderson requested that the TRC Implementation Committee become a standing committee of Faculty Council in order to keep the project going, in his words, “Foreveror until colonialism ends.”