“You’re Not the Indian I Had in Mind”: Jess Housty On Respectfully Working in Indigenous Communities

I started my day with my morning tea and these illuminating words from Jess Housty. From her Twitter profile (@heiltsukvoice), Jess Housty describes herself as: ‘Cúagilákv: Community agitator; mother; tribal councillor; admirer of gentle warriors; foreign-funded radical; Indigenist; unapologetically . Though I haven’t met her myself, I have had the opportunity to hear her speak about her work on the campaign to end trophy hunting in Heiltsuk territory. She speaks eloquently and passionately about the importance of collaboration, perseverance, and staying grounded. Check out her other writings here.

Now back to the article. This article is a MUST READ for all Canadians. I really mean that. Though she is writing to a specific audience (film-makers who want to film in Indigenous communities), her words carry with them a much broader significance. Housty leaves this final message:

Reconciliation isn’t about federal apologies or one-time marches in the street. It’s about re-evaluating how you carry yourself in the world in relation to Indigenous peoples. There’s a great deal of learning (and unlearning) to do and I hope you intuit how important and transformative the journey can be.

In the article, she describes the many problematic ways in which films are made in Indigenous communities and provides practical alternatives to people who are interested in working with Indigenous communities. Housty asks all the good questions that people tend to shy away from. Her article addresses the following 8 questions:

  1. Are you centring Indigenous voices and perspectives?
  2. Do you expect Indigenous people to stage their culture for you?
  3. Have you done your homework?
  4. Are you clear on ownership and intellectual property?
  5. Have you thought critically about compensation and benefits?
  6. Are you building capacity or just extracting resources?
  7. How do you feel about leaving final approvals or ownership of footage with us?
  8. Are you playing up stereotypes or open to authenticity?

These reflections and suggestions for improvement are certainly relevant in the law school environment where professors are tasked with implementing the TRC Calls to Action and promoting reconciliation. There are endless ways that this article could prove useful to professors in Canadian law schools. For example, professors could assign Housty’s article as reading and then ask each student to analyze a media piece (film, article, news clip) on a legal issue in Indigenous communities with Housty’s words in mind. It is also directly relevant to any professor or student who intends to do legal research with Indigenous communities.

These words keep coming back to me, as I wander through my day. I reflect on the work I have done as a lawyer working with Indigenous communities. Have I done a good enough job centring Indigenous voices and perspectives? Have I been building capacity? Compensating properly? And on and on. I welcome the opportunity to reflect on my work through a new, sharper lens and am thankful that Jess Housty shared her words with the world. So go ahead and read the full article here.

Small Steps on the Path Towards Reconciliation at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law

WLMC.jpg_Page_1_Image_0002Sarah Morales and Angela Cameron

The University Of Ottawa Faculty Of Law has been collectively working towards understanding and implementing the Recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Report, released on Dec, 15, 2015. We have had long discussions and debates in large groups and small, in formal settings such as faculty retreats, and over intimate meals with smaller groups. We have not always agreed on how to move forward, and have tossed around various models, ideas and plans. Lead by our Indigenous faculty; Tracey Lindberg,  Larry Chartrand, Sarah Morales and Darren O’Toole, we have learned to live with the fact that our approach may not be perfect as we start out, but that we are committed to refining our plan or even changing paths as we learn more.

In anticipation of the release of the final report we invited Indigenous scholars to participate in the Dean’s Distinguished Lecture Series and focus their remarks on Indigenous law and legal traditions.  Dr. Ray Austin gave a lecture on November 10th, 2016 focusing on the movement to develop tribal courts and tribal law as effective means of modern self-government.  His remarks specifically addressed the complicated task of using traditional Navajo values to address contemporary legal issues.  Prof. John Borrows also gave an inspiring talk on Nov. 17th, 2015. His remarks focused on Indigenous methodologies in teaching and he spoke about his approaches which incorporate being on the land, and learning Indigenous laws in the places that they are forged.

On February 17, 2016 we held a talking circle, let by Elder Claudette Commanda of the Algonquin Nation. The circle included interested Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, professors and staff members. This circle helped us to shape the terms of reference for a key step: hiring an Indigenous Affairs Co-ordinator. The Co-ordinator is intended to provide cultural and academic support for our Indigenous students, and assist and lead faculty in our reconciliation project. We are excited to welcome Katherine Koostachin of Attawapiskat First Nation to the faculty on July 27th, 2016 as our Indigenous Affairs Co-ordinator.

Following the circle we continued to discuss the challenges we faced on the road to de-colonisation. It became clear that many individual professors were already consciously teaching in a de-colonising frame, or were including Indigenous laws and legal orders in their course materials. Following the release of the Final Report and recommendations in December, 2015 we began to develop the outlines of an approach to reconciliation at a faculty level. We have set up a small group of first year professors, covering all courses, who are committed to incorporating either a de-colonising lens or Indigenous laws and legal orders in a clear and unambiguous way into their courses. This includes our mandatory legal research and writing and dispute resolution courses. A small cohort of self- selected first year students will follow this reconciliation curriculum. *We have hired research assistants to support professors in developing or deepening course materials, and have organised a reading and discussion group of these self-selected professors to learn together. This group of professors also participated, on June 6th, 2016, in a workshop on Indigenous legal methodology with Hadley Freidland of the Indigenous Law Research Unit at the University of Victoria Faculty of Law. We were joined by Prof. Jeff Hewitt (Cree Nation) of the University Of Windsor Faculty of Law who participated as an invited expert.

This first year ‘pilot project’ will provide us with a starting point to evaluate our approach, and consider introducing some or all aspects to a larger part of the student population.

We continue, of course, to offer a large number of excellent upper year courses taught by Indigenous faculty that treat Indigenous laws and legal orders, Aboriginal law, and reconciliation as their core subject matter.

At a broader faculty level we invited Prof. Rebecca Johnson to our faculty retreat in April, 2016. Rebecca brought a methodology to the larger faculty audience that makes the TRC recommendations easy to access and teach, and provided us with a number of excellent pedagogical entry points. The workshop was hailed ‘the best retreat ever’. In particular faculty loved the way Rebecca’s methodology opened the TRC recommendations to private and public law scrutiny, and built on professors’ existing subject matter knowledge. It also demonstrated that there is so much to teach and learn about within the TRC that does not require us to magically and suddenly develop a deep knowledge of Indigenous laws and legal orders- which can at times be a very intimidating proposal for non-Indigenous faculty.

Finally, our first year orientation will also feature a reconciliation theme. Prof. John Borrows will address the entire first year class, and all first years will participate in two important workshops: 1) an introduction to law that places Indigenous laws and legal orders on the same footing as common and civil law and 2) an overview of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

*This relatively small cohort will also take some classes within larger groups. In these larger groups, as a result, more students will be exposed to the reconciliation curriculum by default.

 

Reflections on the Role of Stories in Law

Pipsell Title Declaration
Pipsell (Jacko Lake), the site of “Trout Children” and the Ajax mine proposal (Photo: Bonnie Leonard)

 

TRC Call to Action 50 states:

50. In keeping with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, we call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal organizations, to fund the establishment of Indigenous law institutes for the development, use, and understanding of Indigenous laws and access to justice in accordance with the unique cultures of Aboriginal peoples in Canada.

This Call to Action urges us to properly value the potential of Indigenous law institutes and the need to take Indigenous laws seriously as laws. In this blog post, I reflect on my experience “developing, using, and understanding” Secwepemc laws through work with the Indigenous Law Research Unit (ILRU) and the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council (SNTC).

I focus on the power of stories in Secwepemc law. My hope is these words will reveal the importance of funding Indigenous law institutes by demonstrating that researching Indigenous law is possible. 

I also hope to encourage people to find a story from the territory you live on and engage with the laws within it using your whole self.

Because stories are so central to this work, I will begin with a story…Read Blog Here!

WHAT’S ‘YOUR’ TREATY?

WHAT’S ‘YOUR’ TREATY? – A Call#28 In-class Exercise (with thanks to Michael Asch and Alan Hanna)

In the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action, Canadians are told of the importance of Treaties, both about teaching them, and knowing them. Many of us in Law Schools are focused on Call #28.

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 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.

On-Being-Here-to-Stay-Treaties-and-Aboriginal-Rights-in-CanadaThis is fine in the abstract, but, as with many things, the devil is in the details. My experience is that relatively few law students already know what treaty governs them. Indeed, many law professors are in the same situation.

Certainly, I found myself squarely in the camp of the non-knowledgeable earlier this year while sitting in on Val Napoleon’s Indigenous Legal Theory Class. Alan Hanna (a lawyer with Woodward and Company, a law firm that works exclusively for First Nations organizations and governments) came to give a guest lecture. He began by suggesting a round of introductions. He asked us to each tell him our name, and what treaty territory we were born in. As Alan told us, this is a question that anthropologist Michael Asch has been asking his students for years.

ACK!

Because I work at a University that attempts to acknowledge the territory as part of its protocols, I knew that I was living on unceded Lekwungen, WSÁNEĆ and Coast Salish Territory. But that was not the question posed. I did NOT know which treaty applied in the place where I was born (Calgary). My first impulse was to blame my mother for that appalling gap in my knowledge base (I mean, why take responsibility when you can displace it?!). However, I was also pretty sure that I recalled my mom talking to me about treaties when she was taking University courses in her 60s. I just had not remembered or retained that information. I wasn’t sure which was worse: knowing that I did not know the answer, or seeing so clearly that I was not alone. Several of us in the class experienced challenges in providing an answer.

treaty6map
Map from https://canadianhistoryworkshop.wordpress.com/treaties/treaty-six/

Alan/Michael’s question was super-useful in terms of making visible that there are concrete things individual people can do to begin the process of reconciliation. Thus. Note to self: one step in the direction of reconciliation is to “know the name of the treaty that applies in the territory in which you were BORN, as well as in the territory in which you currently LIVE.” And so, inspired (aka ‘tail firmly between my legs’), I scuttled off to the internet, to find and then read about Treaty 7 (for you Calgarians out there!)

 

A second step in the direction of reconciliation might be “figure out how to work TREATIES into one of the classes you teach this year, no matter what subject you teach”.    What follows, then, is a walk-through of an excercise using “The Treaty Question” in a classroom of 40ish students. This is how Alan and I (who went on to co-teach a course on Indigenous Research Methods and Practice this summer) set it up, in order to get at the benefits of the question with a smaller risk of embarrassment to people who don’t know the answer.

THE EXERCISE

On the first day of class, we ended things with the following assignment. We asked the students to take a few minutes in the evening, and go online to find out what treaty governed the place they were from. In setting up the exercise, I told them how I had been asked this question in a workshop and had been unable to answer it (argh… it is TRUE!!! And it was somewhat humiliating). My thought was that it was better to acknowledge to the students that many of us are in the same rickety boat, so that people could throw themselves into a new exercise without fear or embarrassment about a knowledge gap. This is the thing about growing up in a colonial context. There are many knowledge gaps.

We left the students with some freedom on the ‘from’ part of the question. It could mean where they were born, or where they grew up, or where they were currently living. They were told they would report back to the group the following day, and would be required to tell us three things:

  1. What treaty applies in the place you are from (born in, grew up in, living in now)?
  2. What is something you found interesting or unexpected while doing the research for this assignment?
  3. What is your favourite dessert?

THE RATIONALE

Because this was the beginning of the term, not all of the students knew the others. So at one level, this assignment functioned a bit like an ‘icebreaker’. But is also functioned in a number of other ways:

  1. Substantively, this is a great way to get conversation going about Treaties. For many students, it is likely to be the first time they have been asked the question, have been able to provide an answer to the question, or looked at the text of a treaty. Because the students will likely be from a number of different places, it also means that you will have real variety. For example, in our class, we had a student visiting from Europe, who said that there was no treaty governing her. That was a great answer, as it enabled a good discussion about (for example) The Treaty of Westphalia. If that happens, it opens up space for talking about how Treaties in North America are or are not like other kinds of treaties. (Also, depending on the class you were teaching, it could enable a discussion of failures to keep the terms of a treaty, ie. Can one person get out of it unilaterally? Does a breach of a term necessarily invalidate the treaty itself?).
  1. It enabled the students to go do a bit of research on their own right at the beginning of the class (rather than just being given a map of treaties, or being told what treaty governed), in order to answer a question that was “theirs” (ie. It would differ depending on where they were from). Since they were left to do it on their own, it enabled them to develop their own search strategy, and to see something of what is out there in the world (for both the good and the bad). It also meant that they would have a chance to see, talk about and compare some of the different resources out there.
  1. The students were asked to share what they had learned with their classmates. The point of this was not simply that they acquire knowledge, but that they share it. Each student had a few minutes to ‘teach’ their classmates something substantive (which treaties apply where) and also to practice their own talking/oral/aural skills (in a very low-stakes context). This disrupted the conventional model of the professor as teacher, since the students were active participants in knowledge transmission.   It is also ‘collaborative’ in some important ways (collaborating as a class to come up with our own mapping of treaties), and this too supports the skill-development set out in Call #28.
  1. This approach provided space to develop community in a way that a typical icebreaker wouldn’t. The students tended to share in a different way: they were sharing their research process, along with something of what was surprising or unexpected to them. It meant that we spent a very interesting hour, listening to people give gently personalized accounts about search strategies and their responses to learning about the treaty that was ‘theirs’. We were still telling each other something of where we were ‘from’, but in a way different from the way we usually do it: we were each asked to describe ourselves as governed by a particular treaty. It made space for the students to begin the work of making community with each other. While any form of introduction might work for this, doing it in this way disrupted the more common pattern of replying on disciplinary background or degrees or urban/rural (which can be alienating for some students).

SOME TEACHING/PEDAGOGICAL COMMENTS

  • USING A CIRCLE: When we did this exercise in class, we used the ‘circle methodology’: that is, we broke up the classroom space, rearranging things so that we were sitting in a circle facing each other. There were two of us facilitating the class, so the circle began with one of us and closed with the other [a great technique for circles if you are fortunate enough to have two people facilitating/teaching the class]. Some thoughts on using a circle. If you can do it from time to time, awesome. Clearly, this is more or less of a challenge (and indeed, more or less possible) depending on the structure of the room in which you teach. There are some great advantages to using the circle method for some exercises. Most powerfully, it really lets people speak to each other. In some ways, this is because you can’t really take notes or work with laptops: there is no place to hide! Indeed, you get the advantage of a laptop-free space without having to fight for it. There is something powerful where people are talking to each other and can see each other at the same time. While I think the exercise can work in whatever space you have, it is worth thinking about disruptions to conventional classroom space for this exercise. There is something about the change in space that can also support a change in how the students both share and hear information that is being discussed.   It gives people a chance to really practice their listening skills, and leans more in the direction of the skills list set out in the TRC Call #28.
  • MULTIPLE ITERATIONS: I think this is an exercise that could be done multiple times, and in multiple classroom contexts.   Even if the class participant (student or prof) ‘knew’ the answer already, it would leave space for people to re-read, learn something new, share something new, reinforce what they already knew, make new connections.   Depending on the class you are teaching, students can be asked to engage with the treaties in more or less complex ways (for example, in  Family Law, International Law, Conflicts of Law). There is something to be said, however, for beginning where you are: to taking seriously the notion that knowledge can be acquired in layers, and that people can return to the same question multiple times. There is value in doing so in ways that enable people to connect the TRC questions to their own person experience. This lets people do learning in ways that connect them to their own experience of place. It can enable people to connect to land, while opening space for conversations about the obligations one has within a treaty, and about how one learns about treaty obligations moving into a new space.
  • saltyCaramelsSlipping
    My favourite dessert?  Chocolates hand-dipped by a sibling, of course!

    “DESSERT”: We were not just being flippant in asking the students to share their favourite dessert after telling us what they had learned about the treaty that governs the place they are from. We were asking students to do an exercise that can be uncomfortable/challenging for a number of communities for a number of reasons. It may be challenging for indigenous students who may be thinking about broken promises, connections to land, etc. It may also involve some discomfort for some settler students who are similarly asked to consider what it means to be living in unceded land, etc. By heading to a dessert at the end, students were also given space to bond over treats (you can expect to see people nodding in agreement, or occasionally salivating). The moment of lightness at the end helps with the other moments that are more difficult. It also adds another line of connections, is a reminder of food, and other things that people have in common.

FINAL REFLECTIONS

While we were using this exercise in the context of Indigenous Legal Methodology, I don’t think the utility of this exercise is limited to classes the directly engage questions of Indigenous Law, Land or Pedagogy. This exercise is a pretty good one for basic ‘getting to know you’ purposes in the context of any class (or indeed, any non-class context involving introductions). At least within the law school, we are constantly asking students to tell us where they are from, what degree they have, etc. Often, those demands are just to help us get to know each other. Starting from the point of view of ‘treaty’ is one way to do the same thing, while participating in acts of reconciliation by attempting to place treaty as the ground on which we all stand.

But there is much more to be said about this exercise.  Indeed, to introduce oneself by situating the legal order from which one comes is also a performance of law in many Indigenous legal orders. For example, this was articulated as a legal obligation in current work being done by ILRU in conjunction with the Secwepemc (Shuswap Nation Tribal Council) on Land and Resource Law. Beginning with an acknowledgment of the the territory you are in, and of the territory you come from is a way of acknowledging the existence of obligations and responsibilities attaching to both land and people who have taken on relationships to it and to each other.

In the act of introducing oneself to others through Treaty, then, one can make visible the legal obligations that one carries as a result both of territory of birth, and territory in which one finds oneself (and this is true even where one is not conscious of the obligations that they carry). Knowing the treaties makes it possible to acknowledge that one is a guest in another territory. In a perfect world, it also makes visible to non-indigenous Canadians the notion that they too (or, in my own case, I TOO) have treaty obligations. The big work is how we, as Settler Canadians, actualize or engage with those obligations, as we begin to re-consider the questions of what it means to be on treaty lands (and particularly what it means in contexts where treaty obligations have not been fulfilled).

OTHER RESOURCES TO DRAW ON:5564

  1. The TRC Final Report (Volume 1: Executive Summary) pp. 237 to 254. That section addresses:
    • UNDRIP as framework for reconciliation
      • Calls #43 and #44
    • The Doctrine of Discovery & Treaties
      • Calls #45 and #46
    • It also includes info re this link on treaties and Manitoba. Nice resource! http://www.trcm.ca/treaties/
  1. Michael Asch, On Being Here to Stay: Treaties and Aboriginal Rights in Canada (University of Toronto Press, 2014).  For a helpful review of the book by Neil Vallance, see this link:
  2. Aimée Craft, Breathing Life into the Stone Fort Treaty: An Anishnabe Understanding of Treaty One (Purich Publishing, 2013).  For a short CBC report on the book, click here.

Reckoning with the Role of Universities in Reconciliation

UOIT reconciliation panel

Course Overview

In my fourth year Legal Studies course, Public Governance through Law, at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, we examine ways in which the administrative state deploys law in identifying and responding to public policy challenges. We concentrate on a series of contemporary governance challenges, in order to bring context, depth and continuity to the subject matter of the course. One case study we undertook focused on the question of the “role of universities in reconciliation.”

Public Panel

During our usual three hour time slot, students were asked to attend a public panel, featuring a range of Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers, teachers, and political leaders. The eight speakers were Phil Fontaine (former AFN Nation Chief), Kelly LaRocca (Chief of the Mississauga of Scugog Island First Nation), Natalie Oman (UOIT), Kirsten Anker (McGill University), Carl James (York University, Suzanne Stewart (University of Ontario), Tim McTiernan (President of UOIT), and Shirley Williams (elder and professor emeritus, Trent University). A video recording of the event is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Oge0lcgTIA

Framing

A key question when exploring the project of public governance through law is: what role can and should citizens play in the endeavour? We examined this question in the context of universities, by exploring how students participate in the formal and informal governance of universities. In other words, we began by thinking about the role that students play in creating law—both in a formal and explicit way, as well as an informal and implicit manner.

Thus, the learning objectives that day were:

• To identify and explain what civic participation by university students means and point to examples both inside and outside of the university context
• To critically examine the purposes universities serve and explain what you think the point of being a university student is
• To explore why the recent report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada on Residential Schools bears relevance to universities, the students, faculty, administrators and staff who make them up

Materials

I asked students to read an extract from two articles:

• Rhonda Wynne, “Higher Education Student Civic Engagement: Conceptualizations of Citizenship and Engagement Strategies”
• Planas et al., “Student participation in university governance: the opinions of professors and students” (2013) 38:4 Studies in Higher Education 571

I assigned the first reading in order to get students reflecting on the theme of civic engagement and the second to analyze purported barriers to student involvement in shaping how universities function and therefore how they experience their third-level education.

We began class with a brainstorming exercise on all of the different ways students can participate in the governance of university—from holding an official position on the executive of the student union, simply voting in student elections, engaging in sit-ins, boycotts, protests etc. Next, we explored some accounts of the purposes universities ought to serve: ought they to be strictly economic or are they in fact primarily ethical enterprises? Why or why not do students see themselves implicated in the public mission of university?

In the third portion of the class, we shifted gears. In anticipation of the public panel, we watched two video clips: a short documentary featuring the legacy of residential schools about Wab Kinew, his father and son called “Surviving the Survivor” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EPX9a5r6uAQ and a news report on the filing of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission final report https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKKLgwlosaw

We then discussed what the relationship has been between universities and Indigenous peoples in Canada and canvassed perspectives on whether and what kind of role universities might have to play in reconciliation. In anticipation of the panel the following week, I assigned the following readings:

• Murray Sinclair, “What is Reconciliation?” Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Canada online: https://vimeo.com/25389165
• Rosemary Nagy & Robinder Kaur Sehdev, “Introduction: Residential Schools and Decolonization” (2012) 27:1 Canadian Journal of Law and Society 67
• Tim McTiernan, “Universities Will Help Reset Relations Between Indigenous and non-Indigenous People” The Globe and Mail (29 June 2015), online: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/universities-will-help-reset-relations-between- http://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/universities-will-help-reset-relations-between-indigenous-and-non-indigenous-people/article25150361/
• Thomas McMorrow, Natalie Oman & Rachel Ariss, “Indigenous studies is central to liberal arts education in Canada” Ottawa Citizen (21 December 2015), online: http://ottawacitizen.com/opinion/columnists/op-ed-indigenous-studies-is-central-to-liberal-arts-education-in-canada.
• Mandee McDonald, “Unsafe Space: The Danger of Mandatory Indigenous Studies Courses” Northern Public Affairs (18 February 2016), online: http://www.northernpublicaffairs.ca/index/unsafe-space-the-danger-of-mandatory-indigenous-studies-courses/

UOIT reconciliation panel 2nd shot

Assessment

Students were asked to write a reflection on their experiences of the panel and/or create a short video reflecting on themes explored that day. Also, one of the questions on the final exam asked students to write a memo outlining what they thought universities can and should do in order to foster reconciliation. Thus, students had an opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings about the panel themes, while at the same time demonstrate their critical analysis of the concepts and proposals in the literature.

Rich with diverse identities and experiences, the panel appeared to capture the interest of all the students who attended (45/49)—or at least, so they said in their reflections. The backgrounds of the panelists are indicative of the complex, nuanced and fascinating conversation that unfolded. For instance, Carl James is a professor of education, former Affirmative Action Officer at York and an African-Canadian born in the Caribbean. Phil Fontaine was the longest serving National Chief of the AFN, and is an Ojibway from the Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba. A residential school survivor, he was credited by the TRC for speaking publicly about his experience of sexual abuse in residential school thereby pushing the need to address their effects onto the national agenda. President Tim McTiernan, an Irishman, is the University’s President and at once, a government negotiator on Indigenous land claims in the Yukon. Shirley Williams was the first person promoted to the rank of professor at Trent University on the basis of Indigenous knowledge. Hailing from the Wikwemikong reserve on Manitoulin Island, the Obijwa elder also survived residential school. Psychologist and education scholar, Suzanne Stewart is from a Dene family whom she noted has been deeply affected by the trauma of the residential school system. Natalie Oman, a professor of Legal Studies at the UOIT, who hails from a settler family in rural Ontario, has done extensive fieldwork with the Wetsuweten and Gixtsan First Nations in British Columbia. McGill law professor Kirsten Anker is an Australian, married to a Frenchman, raising her children in Quebec while exploring Indigenous ways of conceiving and living property and legal pluralism. Kelly LaRocca is a former civil litigator, Chief of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation and sometime lecturer at Sir Sanford Fleming College.

Seasoned speakers with interesting stories offered good fodder for student reflection and discussion. The following class- some days before the reflections were due—we did a debrief on the panel and attempted to draw connections between that discussion and the ones we had about universities in general and the role of students in shaping them.

UOIT reconciliation audience

Student Learning

Some of the analyses, for their depth and clarity warrant quotation; for example, one student wrote:

[D]ue to the accountability deficit, the Federal Government needs to take leadership on nationally redressing the harms experienced by indigenous persons and that this needs to be done through consultation with indigenous persons. It is not enough to make a change in one area of law or society, for a change to be lasting it needs to be normalised into every area of public life. Education is one area that would benefit from reform so that correct knowledge is disseminated to raise attention, understanding and compassion to the situation of Canadian indigenous peoples. Reconciliation efforts need to be carefully analyzed so that these initiatives are not a more insidious form of colonialism and that education on and education of indigenous peoples is not further complicit in culture stripping and identity loss.

It should be noted that this particular student was also taking a research-based course on atrocity crimes against Indigenous peoples in Latin America. Designed and led by Natalie Oman, the student research informs her project (and forthcoming report) for the United Nations on this subject. An outstanding example of the integration of research, teaching and public service related to Indigenous issues, if ever there was one.

Another student reflected:

I hesitate to dismiss the role of university as a mechanism for reconciliation, but believe it must use its cultural capital only in such a manner as to legitimate devolution of political power. The discretion over the degree to which western institutions actively insert themselves into the process of reconciliation, represents the fundamental challenge for the balancing of social interests. It may equally represent the moment at which western institutions are forced themselves to evolve as an articulation of contemporary knowledge systems and culture. But this decision I leave to those on whose behalf such a change would be designed to benefit.

Maybe less polished but even more powerful reflections were shared also, like this one:

The sad reality of my upbringing has personally embarrassed me today because of the manner in which I can relate to the stereotypes expressed by Shirley Williams. Many people scoff and righteously reject the idea that these stereotypes exist within Canada, but the truth is they do and for many of us are attempted to be woven into our sub-consciousness from a young age. I was not taught to physically mistreat or abuse indigenous peoples, but I was not taught to respect them. I was informed that they were drunks who chose to live off welfare rather than work for a fair wage. Indigenous people were not proud people, they were a primitive culture attempting to usurp our new wave westernized philosophies. I had been always reminded that historically Canada did nothing wrong, and that the indigenous tribes were merely attempting to extort more land out of the government in order to establish a lost art, a lost culture. Now, couple this mindset with the lack of education taught in schools concerning indigenous history and it creates a foundation built on ignorance and misinformation.

“After attending this presentation I have come to regret my previous course selections. At the beginning of my year at the University Of Ontario Institute Of Technology, I spent two years essentially studying introductory courses. After those were completed I was able to narrow my studying, focus my selections around topic areas I found interesting and that coincided with the area of law I was interested in going into. Unfortunately, with my lack of knowledge and background into aboriginal studies I took few courses concerning this topic area and spent very little time absorbing new information. I regret this wholeheartedly now, which is why I respectfully agree with both Kelly Laroc [sic] and Dr. Susan Stuart’s [sic] suggestion of creating a mandatory indigenous studies course. I do not believe that teachers and professors are aware of the lack of appropriate knowledge being administered to their students. This is why the idea around universities becoming a part of the reconciliation process for the indigenous communities of Canada is so important. Students need to be properly engaged and informed of the real history of Canada in order to make even the slightest attempt to reconcile with indigenous societies.

Another reflection in particular evinced much less distance from and perspective on the embodiment of colonialist attitudes. Being able to read these reflections informed how I framed class discussion. Also, as I mentioned, students had the option to create three minute videos reflecting on the themes covered in the two classes on student participation in universities and the role of universities in reconciliation. I created this option for students who were unable to attend the #TRUR event (although could view its recording after the fact) or who preferred to express themselves in this medium. I encouraged students to do both and said they’d receive whichever grade was higher. Hardly any took on both. And few took advantage of the invitation to be as creative as possible in designing and producing their videos. Most simply recorded themselves speaking. One, however, used an online animation program, so her narration of the history of residential schools and the implications of the TRC for universities today was alive with dynamic illustrations. I used this clip in our review in the last class. Student generated content, demonstrating student learning, can be a wonderful teaching tool. Finally, many of the recommendations and arguments expressed in their exam responses have informed my grasp of the question of how universities in Canada and the UOIT in particular can respond meaningfully to the TRC’s call to action.

Integrating property

Among McGill’s responses to the TRC recommendations will be a new property course that will integrate resources from common law, civil law, and indigenous traditions. This mandatory course will replace mandatory courses in Civil Law Property and Common Law Property. The change is part of a wider-scale program renewal – aiming to significantly enhance the student experience through changes to substance and modes of delivery – that we’ll start unrolling in September 2016. Since students won’t take the new course until their second year, we’ll first offer it in 2017-2018. Accordingly, we’re not able yet to give details, but I think our ambitious project is still worth sharing as sister faculties work through appropriate responses to the TRC’s call for action.

The property course will join other integrated or “transsystemic” courses, such as Contractual Obligations, Extra-contractual Obligations, and Family Law, that have formed pillars of the McGill Program since 1999. The new course represents a deepening of our commitment to legal education that crosses traditional boundaries. The course represents a deepening of our commitment in another sense, too, as we haven’t fully realized our ambitions for transsystemic legal education at McGill to reach beyond the traditions of the common law and civil law to embrace others, such as indigenous legal traditions. Property is especially crucial on this point, of course, as the effacement of indigenous conceptions of land use and belonging have played such a central role in colonialism.

Colleagues of mine will give shape to this course during the coming academic year. Already, though, our experience with integrating legal traditions in other courses allows me to offer several observations that I think will apply at McGill and that might be helpful as others reflect, debate, and dream.

First, it doesn’t work to wait until you’re fully ready for such an endeavour before deciding to do it. At a certain point, you have to commit and leap, trusting that you’ll get there and knowing that many of us work better under the healthy pressure that a deadline imposes. It’s a mistake to let perfectionism hobble the exercise.

Second, a course integrating two or more traditions, including indigenous legal traditions, shouldn’t and can’t be only or primarily a functional comparison leading to assessments of what is the ‘better solution’. Instead, it should and can aim to appreciate the traditions’ respective legal cultures, such as their forms of knowledge, evidence, and reasoning.

Third, be cautious about overarching narratives, which risk being simplistic – be they ones of radical difference or of fundamental sameness.

Fourth, it’s important to avoid translating one tradition into the technical vocabulary of the other. Relatedly, there will not be equivalents within one tradition for every legal idea encountered in another. Some students who wish to make comparative charts or tables will occasionally push you to tell them the equivalent so that they can fill in each cell. Sometimes the answer is that there isn’t one, or that we don’t think there is, or that we’re not sure.

Fifth, however you think about your tradition-specific courses, the ambition in an integrated course may well not be comprehensive ‘coverage’. The hope is that students will acquire an appreciation for each tradition and its resources such that they could begin researching and solving problems within it. But you likely will not ‘cover everything’ or even ‘cover everything important.’ Or, as a colleague said to me, maybe you can, but your definition of what is ‘important’ may change radically!

Transsystemic teaching requires humility and a willingness to take risks. It highlights and foregrounds what the study of law can and should be in general. It is a stimulating adventure, one that changes you as it changes your students. The experience at McGill – which we are keen to deepen as we act purposively in response to the TRC – has shown us that the payoff is worth the candle.