In the summer of 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released the executive summary of its Final Report, following on years of gathering information about Canada’s legacy from Indian Residential Schools. The process of implementing the various Calls to Action will take many years, and will involve participation from most segments of Canadian society.
Law is, of course, deeply implicated in this history. Law schools will have an important role to play in the long-term processes of reconciliation. That is clear in Call to Action #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 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.
In a short article in Canadian Lawyer reflecting on the implications of this Call for Canadian law schools to take action, we (Gillian Calder and Rebecca Johnson) said:
“And on recommendation 28, we hope law schools across the country will take up the challenge to talk to each other. What educations models have been employed at universities to address the legacies of genocide, and what partnerships have been put in place to engage creatively and rigorously on those questions? What strategies, curricular innovations, and programs have already been put in place to take up the questions of indigenous laws in our multi-juridical country? What have our colleagues tried in their classrooms? What innovative pedagogies have they developed to ensure that the critical questions of colonialism are woven into all courses?”
And then we got a note from lawyer Elin Sigurdson, reflecting on the work being done by the hashtag #CharlestonSyllabus in the US, to help people generate lists of readings or resources for moving forward some US conversations on histories of race and hate. What about, she asked, doing something similar with the TRC Recommendation #28, maybe using hashtag #ReconciliationSyllabus? Could we imagine that as one avenue for moving us forward with the important conversations about legal education and reconciliation? Great idea!
And so, we invite our colleagues to start sharing ideas, thoughts, texts, comments, etc using the twitter hashtag #ReconciliationSyllabus. We imagine this wordpress site as one spot for the conversation about resources, strategies, and possibilities to take place. What might be required of us is courage, imagination, and vulnerability. What might be required are examples of both success and failure in this endeavour, as we begin to imagine the kinds of actions necessary to have the Calls to Action take shape in the world? Hopefully, this (non-institutionally grounded) site can be a decentralized site for all those teaching law in Canada.
Our work became thicker and more challenging in 2019 at the release of the Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls. As the Commissioners wrote:
The National Inquiry’s Final Report reveals that persistent and deliberate human and Indigenous rights violations and abuses are the root cause behind Canada’s staggering rates of violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people. The two volume report calls for transformative legal and social changes to resolve the crisis that has devastated Indigenous communities across the country.
The Final Report is comprised of the truths of more than 2,380 family members, survivors of violence, experts and Knowledge Keepers shared over two years of cross-country public hearings and evidence gathering. It delivers 231 individual Calls for Justice directed at governments, institutions, social service providers, industries and all Canadians.
As documented in the Final Report, testimony from family members and survivors of violence spoke about a surrounding context marked by multigenerational and intergenerational trauma and marginalization in the form of poverty, insecure housing or homelessness and barriers to education, employment, health care and cultural support. Experts and Knowledge Keepers spoke to specific colonial and patriarchal policies that displaced women from their traditional roles in communities and governance and diminished their status in society, leaving them vulnerable to violence.
And so, this site is an invitation to law professors across Canada (and lawyers? and students?) to gather together ideas about resources and pedagogies that might support recommendation #28 of the TRC Calls to Action: the call for us to rethink both what and how we teach in our schools. And to respond to the #CallsforJustice, in particular, the finding that:
The truths shared in these National Inquiry hearings tell the story — or, more accurately, thousands of stories — of acts of genocide against First Nations, Inuit and Métis women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people. This violence amounts to a race-based genocide of Indigenous Peoples, including First Nations, Inuit and Métis, which especially targets women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people.
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