General principles of reconciliation syllabus

I really love Rebecca’s idea to use local reference points to introduce the reconciliation syllabus to JD students.  At UBC, we are blessed to be located on unceded Musqueam land in close proximity to the Musqueam reserve and to have a cohort of Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh & Squamish students, not to mention wonderful Indigenous faculty members.  So much of the Canadian law on Aboriginal rights and titles has come from right here – R. v. Sparrow [1990] 1 SCR 1075 and R. v. Guerin [1984] 2 SCR 335 are, of course, the biggest examples.  We can and should do more to make these connections between place and curriculum alive for our students.

Once one expands into BC as a whole, of course, the connections (and the legal histories) become even richer and more vibrant.  T’silqhotin explodes the concept that Aboriginal title is confined to postage stamp reserves, and we need to interrogate the implications of that recognition for other parts of BC and Canada.  I really like Cole Harris’s book Locating Native Space because it demonstrates just how historically contingent the BC reserve system was, and how it could very easily have been otherwise.  It shows that our colonial forebears were well aware of what they were doing when they stripped First Nations of their land and property – this is, I think, an important antidote to the anachronistic concept that we are, somehow, more enlightened in our dealings with First Nations than the colonial governments of first contact.  (To compare and contrast the tactics of the early BC governors around reserve allocation with the tactics of current federal and provincial governments in the NEB process re Northern Gateway would, for example, be a fascinating exercise.)

The UBC Museum of Anthropology and Musqueam have collaborated on an exhibition (c̓esnaʔəm, the city before the city) to examine Musqueam identity and worldview.  It offers lots of information – including oral histories and so on – but just as importantly, it aims to emulate Musqueam ways of teaching.  It’s only scheduled to remain in the physical space until January 2016, but I believe that the content will be archived online and will remain available (http://www.thecitybeforethecity.com)

One concern I have is about how to incorporate Indigenous perspectives, Indigenous elders and Indigenous teaching into our curriculum without making overwhelming demands on Indigenous leaders and Indigenous colleagues and without cultural appropriation or misrepresentation.  Any ideas that others can share on that question would be extremely helpful to me.

Another thing that I want especially to raise and discuss is the TRC recommendation that inter-cultural conflict resolution should be taught in law schools.  I love this idea, and I am really not certain about how to advance it.  Do others know of good resources that might assist us to tackle this recommendation?

A further thing I wonder and worry about is how especially to support our Indigenous students as they are learning law.  Changing the curriculum to ensure that Indigenous law and Indigenous perspectives are foregrounded with great respect is important – but so too is the material context in which our students study.  Recognising that law school presents financial, emotional and other challenges to many students, I suspect that these challenges are especially acute for Indigenous students.  Easing these challenges seems an important part of the #reconciliationsyllabus.

My next task is to be a bit less introspective, and a little more instrumental, by posting some of the readings I actually use and discussions I lead in various courses.  These could, I’m sure, be improved and added to and, yes, critiqued – please add your thoughts!

This is my first blog post.  And this is such a sensitive and important topic.  Please give me feedback on whether I have understood the format correctly, and expressed myself in a helpful way!

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