Xwelíqwiya – The Life of a Stó:lō Matriarch

XweliqwiyaIn a recent conversation, Gillian Calder commented on how helpful she has found the IFLS blog (thanks Sonia Lawrence at Osgoode!), and particularly those posts titled “What we are doing/reading/thinking”.   These posts point/link to interesting texts (without worrying about doing the full out suggestion of how those texts might be used).  The posts do serve to get the creative juices running.  Gillian suggested that folks might consider doing something similar with #ReconciliationSyllabus.

In that spirit, I thought I would share some thoughts on a wonderful new book on my bookshelf: Xwelíqwiya – The Life of a Stó:lō Matriarch.  While I haven’t fully sorted out full teaching materials using the book, I am convinced that it is a powerful resource for those thinking about TRC work in the law school.

The book is about the life of Rena Point Bolton.  Rena Point Bolton is, amongst other things, the mother of Steven Point, British Columbia’s first Indigneous Lieutenant Governor.  Rena is a force of nature herself.

The word “Xwelíqwiya”  in the title is her name in Halq’eméylem , the language of the Stó:lō people.

As the books explains, Stó:lō is the Halq’eméylem word for “river”, and the Stó:lō are the river people. In this case, the lower Fraser River.  In the summer, making the trip from Victoria to the Shuswap, the drive through Abbotsford, Harrison Hot Springs and Chiliwack is in fact a drive through Stó:lō territory (or, Stó:lō tém:éxw).

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Another great resource!

As is all too often the case, the first challenge for me was the limits of my own limited language fluency.  That is, the title.  I was just not sure how to pronounce Rena Point Bolton’s name in Halq’eméylem!  Richard Daly, the other co-author, gives a good approximation of how to do it, while acknowledging the challenges for English speakers, since nearly half of the sounds in the Halq’eméylem language don’t exist in English.  But the book invites the reader to nonetheless plunge in and try.

As an aside, Halq’eméylem has 8 different sounds for what in English is the letter “K”! (click here for a link to an interesting article on the expressive qualities of the language, and here for a link to the First Voices, website, where you can listen to and learn words in the language).  I found myself heading to my bookshelf to flip through my copy (well… the copy I lifted from my mom’s bookshelf?) of the award-winning Stó:lō-Coast Salish Historical Atlas.   It’s another great related resource to check out (click here for a link to a “good reads” review of the book).

But, back to Xwelíqwiya.  I have been practicing saying her name outloud, trying to put the sound of her language into my mouth.   I am still processing the book, but have found myself bringing it up in conversation on a daily basis since completing it.   There is so much in there that is interesting.  For today, here are a few comments.

Firstly, I have been increasingly looking for biographies and life histories of women.   There are some out there, but not nearly enough.  And there are CERTAINLY not enough books out there that engage with the lives of Indigenous women.  This book does that, situating Rena’s life in the flow of both Stó:lō history, and colonial history.  It does so in a way that engages with questions of land, language, lineage, class, marriage, child-raising, economy, culture, politics, and change.  Law is never far from the surface.

What was so remarkable was the way that the book was able to follow this one woman’s life over a period of 90 years in a way that personalized questions of history and politics.  Her story is told in a way that let me both have a sense of proximity to her “voice”, and simultaneoulsy contained the kind of “distance” necessary for a measured appreciation of the depth of her actions, her contributions, and her own learnings.

Second point?  This book left me reflecting on the power of its  two-voiced authorship.  This book was written collaboratively with social anthropologist Richard Daly.  At the beginning of the book, there is a discussion of the practice of joint-authorship used here.  They situate this decision against the background of Salish practices of legal governance: in the context of potlatchs and other important governance work, families will hire a Speaker — that is, someone who will speak publically on behalf of the family (rather than having the family themselves do the speaking).  They make visible that Richard Daly’s role in the project was theorized in this way — his role was very much like that of a Speaker.  There is much to be talked about in terms of the way the authorship of this book is thus an example of Salish practices of legal governance, enacted in a contemporary context, with a non-Stó:lō writer being asked to play a part in what is very much the operationalization of a Stó:lō way of living.

This book is largely written with future Stó:lō readers in mind (Rena says this explicitly), but it is also written in a way that invites the non-Stó:lō reader to join, to listen, and to begin to feel the different rhythms of Stó:lō  life, and to appreciate the power of culture, and of women’s place (historically and in contemporary society) in maintaining, promoting and developing social and legal life.  There is a section at the beginning that talks about the different conventions of reading for Stó:lō and settler readers, and what each can know about the other in order to have a productive conversation.  That was really helpful!

The book itself contains so much nuance and complexity about questions of identity, and of pragmatics, and of strategy.  It helped me get a better appreciation of the many ways that we are all actors in history, and of the many pathways that women have walked, and how sometimes those paths circle back to beginnings.  It also explicitly took up questions of silence — of how Indigenous people (and Indigenous women in particular) have experienced both silence and silencing, and of the politics of silence at different moments in time.  It asks us to understand the different meanings of silence, and to ask when the time might come to change some of our strategies.  Really powerful.

Lots to be said about this book, which I think is another of those must-have books.  It is certainly a true gift to those who are seeking to take up the challenge of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for all Canadians to increase their cultural knowledge. Indeed, six of the Calls to Action place this goal at the centre of calls to “professionals”.  We see acknowledgement of the need for cultural competency in the six calls aimed at:

CallsToActionPDF

  • 23 – Health Care Professionals
  • 24 – Medical and Nursing Schools
  • 27 – Law Societies
  • 28 – Law Schools
  • 57 – Public Servants
  • 92 – The Corporate Sector

I came away from the book having had a taste of what it is to live within a Stó:lō life-world, and the beginnings of an appreciation for the rich history that is written on the land that I live on.  I also have an appreciation for the gift of story, and for this book’s invitation to understand the power and possibility of beginning to live in right-relation.  I love this book, and will be returning to it!  Take a look, and see what you think.   Or, maybe write us a post about something you are looking at these days?   Sharing what we are reading is one way to help us think about the project of decolonizing, and of diversifying the reading lists (particularly the required reading) in our courses.

 

 

 

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Gladue reports in the classroom: a group project from the Nunavut Law Program

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Koojesse Inlet, Iqaluit in late September 2017

Benjamin Ralston – benjamin.ralston@usask.ca

What follows is a brief description of a group project that I put together for a course during the first year of the University of Saskatchewan’s Nunavut Law Program. While the context in which this assignment was created is unique, I hope this post might help spark others’ imaginations as to how a robust discussion of the Gladue analysis might be brought into the classroom.

Unique context

I was part of the team that delivered the first year curriculum of the Nunavut Law Program (NLP) during the 2017/2018 academic year. The NLP students are only now completing the ordinary 1L course load of their Juris Doctor degrees. The first year of their four-year program was something more sui generis. First year courses in the NLP included: Legal Process; Inuit History & Government Relations I & II; Introduction to Research & Research Methods; Writing & Communication I & II; Nunavut Land Claims Agreement I & II; Introduction to Professionalism; and Conflict Resolution & Reconciliation.

This group project was used as an assignment for the Introduction to Research & Research Methods course that I taught in the fall term of 2017. The course provided a general introduction to academic research, as well as an introduction to the unique ways in which research is conducted in legal studies and practice. It canvassed the formulation of research questions and plans, literature reviews, research ethics, methods and methodologies, and some of the tools available for legal and academic research. As the course preceded any black letter coursework, the focus was on ‘law-adjacent’ research rather than standard legal research.

The assignment

The students were assigned to create mock “Gladue reports” in groups of five. A Gladue report is a form of pre-sentencing report for Indigenous offenders that provides sentencing judges with the types of information that they need in order to fulfill their obligations under R v Gladue, [1999] 1 SCR 688, Sentencing judges are obliged to consider:

  1. The unique systemic or background factors which may have played a part in bringing the particular Aboriginal offender before the courts; and
  2. The types of sentencing procedures and sanctions which may be appropriate in the circumstances for the offender because of his or her particular Aboriginal heritage.

I put together this Gladue report assignment in order to have students practise their research skills on a project that was both concrete and clearly relevant to their overall legal education, but without requiring much familiarity with black letter law and legal research. It was an attempt at a problem-based learning exercise that would be open-ended enough to allow for creative responses from each group based on their own background knowledge, perspectives, and interests. I also wanted to encourage them to reflect on what they were learning in their Inuit History & Government Relations course in context to legal process.

The project was assigned on the first day of class. Each group was given a set of facts about a fictional character from one of the regions of Inuit Nunangat: Inuvialuit, Nunavut, Nunavik, or Nunatsiavut. Four of the fictional characters were Inuit and one was a fictional Sayisi Dene woman living within Inuit Nunangat. The fact scenarios for each group were meant to nudge the students in the direction of exploring a diversity of Gladue factors. Some but not all of the fact scenarios directly referenced residential school attendance. Others pointed students in the direction of examining how the Gladue analysis might relate to community relocations, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), the child welfare system, out-adoption, and contemporary racism.

One major constraint on the project was that it would be difficult for students to employ the primary research method used by Gladue report writers: in-person interviews with the subject, as well as their family and community members. Still, we covered qualitative research and interviewing skills in the course and many students ended up interviewing local lawyers or individuals involved in restorative justice initiatives in order to flesh out the available alternatives to incarceration.

Students were encouraged to explore a wide variety of research methods by looking at peer-reviewed academic publications, grey literature, reports from commissions of inquiry, and case law to find information of relevance to the Gladue analysis. In terms of precedents, I provided students with access to three redacted examples of Gladue reports from British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Ontario that included reference to secondary source research. It is worth noting that not all Gladue reports contain extensive secondary source research so I was selective about the precedents I obtained for this purpose. I wanted to ensure that the precedents were at least partially replicable in the classroom, as opposed to reports that are solely the result of interviews. I also provided the students with three examples of sentencing decisions that I felt clearly address both prongs of the Gladue analysis: R v Drysdale, 2016 SKQB 160; R v Christmas, 2017 NSPC 48; and R v Callihoo, 2017 ABPC 40.

The Gladue report project was also supported by guest lectures throughout the term. For example, Anisa White, Chairperson of the Gladue Writers Society of British Columbia, lectured the class via Skype on how Indigenous legal traditions can be incorporated within Gladue reports—a topic she has previously addressed elsewhere. Our cultural advisor, Aaju Peter, led a discussion of excerpts from Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s Decolonizing Methodologies to get students to think critically about the research process. During Restorative Justice Week, we also had representatives of the Department of Justice come in to speak to the students about restorative justice programming in Nunavut, including the Iqaluit Justice Committee. This was a happy coincidence. And while I was unsuccessful at arranging a guest lecture from someone involved in a Gladue report process elsewhere in Inuit Nunangat, a well-timed news article helped demonstrate the reports’ potential relevance to Inuit regions and was shared for discussion. Note that unlike Nunavik, Gladue reports are rarely if ever used in Nunavut courts.

The results

This group project was assessed through a combination of the final mock Gladue reports, group presentations on their work-in-progress in advance, and reflective essays mid-way through the project. The plurality of assessments allowed me to weigh in on their progress well in advance to see how the course materials were being applied in context to the assignment. This was a research class after all.

There is a broad scope as to what types of information may qualify as relevant to a Gladue analysis. While most Gladue reports are largely focused on a community’s history, the individual’s history, and what programming is available in the community, they may also engage with social science research and information on Indigenous legal traditions, among other things. I encouraged students to prepare their reports in response to the Supreme Court of Canada’s directions in R v Gladue rather than feeling constrained by the redacted precedents I provided, which were themselves diverse in their approaches and content in any event.

The students clearly took this advice to heart. One of the reports provided a very detailed treatment of how FASD relates to sentencing and the Gladue analysis, clearly linking this to the limited programming available in Nunavut. That same report also provided a detailed community history of Iqaluit, summarized in large part from the Community Histories component of the Qikiqtani Truth Commission’s Final Report. Other students contributed sections that addressed the impacts of the child welfare system on Indigenous children, for example, or that provided specific and detailed statistical information on how systemic discrimination manifests itself in specific communities. One report provided a detailed discussion of the impacts of high arctic relocations on Inuit in Nunavut and Nunavik. This was based in part on secondary sources but also included interviews with family members of one of the students in this group who experienced a relocation firsthand. More than one of the students’ mock Gladue reports touched on Inuit legal traditions as well.

The students’ reflection papers provided other interesting insights into how the Gladue analysis might be adapted to the realities of Inuit Nunangat. Several students raised concerns with the lack of Inuit-specific research available on the intergenerational impacts of the residential school system, community dislocation, and colonization. Many were uncomfortable relying on research that made broader generalizations about Indigenous experiences while being focused on First Nations rather than Inuit experiences. This was a good example of what we learned in the course about the identification of research gaps through a literature review. One student made a persuasive argument for the need to modify the name, form, and content of Gladue reports to better reflect Inuit culture and perspectives, linking this to course readings from Cindy Blackstock and Linda Tuhiwai Smith. Another who had a background in the criminal justice system persuasively argued that emphasis on community and familial dysfunction in a Gladue report could be coded as risk factors that lead to even greater levels of overincarceration for Inuit. Needless to say, I learned as much if not more than the students through administering this project.

Reflections for the future

Overall, I think this assignment was a success. Each group was able to demonstrate research skills on a project that was open-ended and interest-driven. There is enough complexity and depth built into the Gladue analysis that each group had the freedom to approach the assignment from unique angles and perspectives. The focus of the project was on developing and practising research skills, but this was accomplished in a way that I believe to be at least partially responsive to Call to Action #28.

On the other hand, the students’ inability to extensively engage in the interviewing process was a significant limitation. All groups conducted interviews regarding community-based resources that could be put forward as alternatives to incarceration and at least one group conducted interviews for the community history component of their report. Yet the investigation-type interviews conducted by Gladue report writers were not replicable in this assignment as the scenarios were fictional. This was disappointing as the students did not have a chance to practise what they learned about interview techniques as part of this project. For example, we had discussed the importance of asking open-ended questions, and clarifying and corroborating information obtained through interviews, all of which are equally relevant to the practice of law as they are to the Gladue report process.

These limitations may be addressed by having law students directly involved in the preparation of real Gladue reports through an externship program like the one that is apparently taking place at the University of Alberta. Unfortunately, in jurisdictions like Saskatchewan and Nunavut where there is no formal process for the preparation of Gladue reports, we have little choice but to use our imaginations.

Resources

Among other resources, students were assigned the following relevant readings during this course:

  • Kelly Hannah-Moffat & Paula Marutto, “Re-contextualizing Pre-Sentence Reports: Risk and Race” (2011) 12:2 Punishment and Society
  • Cindy Blackstock, “First Nations Children Count: Enveloping Quantitative Research in an Indigenous Envelope” (2009) 4(2) First Peoples Child & Family Review 135
  • Rebecca Johnson & Lori Groft, “Learning Indigenous Law: Reflections on Working with Western Inuit Stories” (2017) 2:2 Lakehead Law Journal 117
  • Hadley Friedland & Val Napoleon, “Gathering the Threads: Developing a Methodology for Researching and Rebuilding Indigenous Legal Traditions” (2015-2016) 1:1 Lakehead Law Journal 16
  • Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Decolonising Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (London & New York: Zed Books, 1999) [excerpts]
  • Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and Nunavut Research Institute, Negotiating Research Relationships with Inuit Communities: A Guide for Researchers, Scot Nickels et al, eds (Ottawa & Iqaluit: Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and Nunavut Research Institute, 2006)
  • Benjamin Ralston & Christine Goodwin “R v. Drysdale: A Gold Standard for the Implementation of R v. Gladue” (2017) 33:7 Criminal Reports 114
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“Inuktitut word of the week” board in the NLP classroom, maintained by the Nunavut Law Students Society