Going Home Star

going home star

 

I saw the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s Going Home Star on Saturday night in Victoria.  (Read a review here: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/rwb-s-going-home-star-truth-and-reconciliation-is-inspired-and-inspiring-1.2785096).  It is an extraordinary piece of art and emotion, a choreographed telling of the legacy of residential schools in Canada, danced by by Canada’s pre-eminent ballet company.

As with most moments of art and law, I left the Royal Theatre with my heart and brain on fire, and wishing that we had had the opportunity to teach this performance in the law school classroom.  Or, alternatively, to have transformed the theatre into a place of learning for all our students. Thinking about this performance as a jurisprudential text brings many of the conversations we have been having about TRC Calls to Action 27, 28 and 50 to mind.  Some thoughts.

First, it reminds me of some of the dangers and concerns of creating mandatory course offerings.  I bought the tickets as a gift for someone close to me, someone who ultimately couldn’t come.  As a settler, I can often lose sight of the embodiment of colonialism, no matter how much I try to keep that present.  My friend carries the imprints of intergenerational trauma on her body.  And while lots of people around us commented on how much she would have loved the performance, her inability to be there wasn’t at all about whether she would have appreciated the art or not.  Even in the face of extraordinary beauty, the vestiges of colonialism can cause unthinkable pain.

Second, it reminds me that experiential education matters.  The performance itself, the ballet, the stage, the costuming, the dancing, was exquisite.  But the experience was also the drummers and their humour, the words of the Artistic Director and the audience response to the acknowledgement of the territories, the words of Grand Chief Cook about his own experience as a residential school survivor reading words from his grand-daugher’s IPad, the recognition of the survivors in the room and of the community that had paid for those tickets, the reminder that if we needed to stand up and leave the performance at any moment, content or otherwise, not only was that fine, but that there would be people to talk to.  It was feeling the Royal Theatre on its feet at the end.  The ballet was beautiful, but the layers of bark and sap and sinew that surrounded it made it living.

Third, there were elements in the performance, like points of law in a legal decision, that were jarring.  It was a constant sensory onslaught of mind, body and spirit.  The music, the throat singing and the spoken word offered affect to the story being told through movement.  The set and the use of the visual was engaging and provocative.  It made me care for the actors in the story, protagonists and villains, but it also made me worry about the context and the hurdles and obstacles presented there.  And I left thinking about representation, about synchronicity, about who keeps stories and who tells them.  I would love to think that when I teach a class I can do all of those things for my students who I know to be a mix of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners.

I know this ballet is near the end of its run.  I hope that others fortunate as I was to see it, will write about it, and what it offers those of us working to create a #ReconciliationSyllabus and more resources for an adequate response to the TRC in Canadian law schools.  I am very grateful and inspired to try to do more within our classrooms, wherever they may be, on this and the other pressing issues of our time.

 

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The Wunusweh Lecture in Aboriginal Law

 (Image: Brea Lowenberger @BreaLowenberger)

This year the annual Wunusweh Lecture in Aboriginal Law at the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Law was focused on the questions posed by the TRC to the Legal Academy.  The presenters were Aimée Craft (Assistant Professor of Law University of Manitoba, and Director of Research, National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation), Karen Drake (Assistant Professor of Law, Bora Laskin Law School, Lakehead University) and Gillian Calder (Associate Professor of Law, University of Victoria).

A link to the presentation can be found here.

 

 

Dean Jeremy Webber’s post at slaw.ca on TRC Recommendation #50

Check out this August 4, 2015 post at slaw.ca by UVic Law Dean Jeremy Webber:

http://www.slaw.ca/2015/08/04/the-law-schools-and-the-future-of-indigenous-law-in-canada/

Webber argues that in addition to measures taken by law schools to respond to the TRC Call to Action on the curriculum for lawyers and law students, legal educator should pay attention to the TRC Call to Action #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.

Webber writes, “That recommendation too requires law schools to respond. We need to bring to Indigenous laws the kind of seriousness that we bring to non-Indigenous law, so that Indigenous law students can learn to reason with their traditions with the rigour and soundness that we require all our students to bring to non-Indigenous law. They need to have skills to know how to access their law, understand it, work with it, assess its multiple interpretations, and function within its institutions. And we and they need to develop modes of translation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous institutions, so that non-Indigenous institutions can relate intelligibly to Indigenous modes of governance and structures can be established that mediate sensibly among our various legal traditions.”

How are law schools in Canada taking up this challenge?

Diversity in our idea of Family: What is family law?

Teaching family law has its perils — on every issue there is someone in the class who has faced the questions addressed.  This makes teaching some of the questions even harder, particularly questions related to child welfare and child protection, to directly addressing issues of race, Indigeneity and cultural understandings of the best interests of the child.

But I would argue, it is inappropriate to teach an introductory course in family law without paying due attention to the issues of colonialism, particularly in British Columbia.  The legacy of residential schools and the sixties scoop have had profound impacts on Indigenous families, from non-recognition of diverse family forms, to direct intervention to a failure to acknowledge that parenting is a socially and culturally generated practice that can be destroyed.

I have been teaching family law at UVic Law since 2004 using materials that have been generated and edited over many years between family law professors at UVic and UBC.  Primarily the work of Professor Susan B. Boyd (recently retired).  Editing our materials year to year has given us the ability to include diverse media, links to resources like RCAP, and have themselves been a source of conversation.

The course has been taught with colonialism being one of the central themes, particularly in the family formation part of the course, and introduction to the legacy of residential schools is part of the first set of readings.  We have used excerpts from RCAP and the texts of the apologies in the House of Commons, but will work to edit our materials to be inclusive of the TRC Report and Recommendations.

In this short blog post I just want to mention two resources that I have used.  The first is a video that I show when teaching a class on Indigenous child protection.  It is a VHS cassette (an historical artefact for today’s students) produced by the Carrier Sekani Family Services: A Journey Home: Reclaiming our Children, Carrier Sekani Family Services (CSFS), House of Talent Productions, 2005  www.csfs.org  If your library doesn’t have it you can probably get it ILL from UVic Law.  The video tells the story of a bah’lats (a potluck) held by the Carrier Sekani to welcome back into the clans children who had been apprehended and raised outside their communities.

The other readings for the class are Marlee Kline, “Child Welfare Law, ‘Best Interests of the Child’ Ideology, and First Nations” (1992), 30 Osgoode Hall L.J. 375; and annie bunting,“Complicating Culture in Child Placement Decisions” (2004) 16 Canadian Journal of Women and the Law 137.  This enables an open and challenging conversation around the ideologies embedded in our understanding of terminology like “best interests of the child,” questions of essentialism, questions of protocol, and a more embodied response to the questions mostly due to the visual presentation and the powerful words of the elders (with English subtitles).

I have written about using that resource in class here: Gillian Calder, “‘Finally I Know Where I am Going to be From’: Culture, Context and Time in a Look Back at Racine v. Woods” in Kim Brooks, ed., Justice Bertha Wilson: One Woman’s Difference (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2009) pp. 173-189.

The second resource is a short story by Thomas King, “The Baby in the Airmail Box” in A Short History of Indians in Canada (Toronto: Harper Collins, 2005) 34-49 at 34-42.  The story is about an Indigenous couple who goes to a Child Placement Office in Alberta to adopt a white baby, while simultaneously a white baby has mysteriously shown up in a box delivered to the local Chief and Counsel.  It is wry and laugh-out-loud funny.  But every year I sit on the edge of the desk and for the last 8 minutes of class I read this short story to an almost silent, holding in their breath class.  At the end of the reading, when there is inevitably laughter, I set up the next class.  In that class the students are required to read a series of difficult adoption cases, including Racine v. Woods.  Thomas King is purposefully playing with stereotypes, and it makes some of the students uncomfortable.  But the goal is to go to the readings thinking carefully and critically about what is not said in those cases.  What kinds of stereotypes and assumptions are at play.  And the following class is inevitably more engaged as a result.

I am very happy to share lecture notes, syllabi from family law, or other materials (gcalder@uvic.ca).  And I am happy to know what family law teachers across the country are doing to respond to the TRC.

“The Problem of Prostitution” – Problem-based learning in Constitutional Law: some reflections on colonialism

gillianIn the 2014-2015 academic year I revised the methodology of my first-year Constitutional Law class to centre “problem-based learning.” And the problem that I chose to ground the year, federalism, Indigenous laws, and the Charter, was the “problem of prostitution.”

If anyone is interested in thinking through what a shift to problem-based learning might look like, I have lots of resources from my year that I am super happy to share. Just email me at gcalder@uvic.ca. It is the best thing I have done to challenge my own perceptions and teaching in a long time. Here are a couple of articles about problem-based learning that I found helpful when I started my own rethinking:

  • Julie Macfarlane and John Manwaring, “Using Problem-Based Learning to Teach First Year Contracts” (1998) 16(2) Journal of Professional Legal Education 271-298
  • Shirley Lung, “The Problem Method: No Simple Solution” (2009) 45(4) Williamette Law Review 723-766.

However, what I want to say briefly here in the context of how law schools should respond to the TRC, is that one of the problems I have faced in teaching Constitutional Law is the volume of materials, but also the silos. I have tended to teach the course in three separate chunks, and evaluate those three chunks separately as well. What I found this year using a thick, messy, political, economic, social, ethical and multi-legal problem like “prostitution” was that the integrated questions of jurisdiction, colonialism, and rights remained present throughout all components of the course.

And in particular, the issue of who is affected by the sex-trade and the correlation between colonialism, murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls, and law’s engagement with prostitution, was something we returned to throughout our learning process. And while there are Indigenous issues in federalism and in the Charter, here the engagement and the learning was deep-learning. And, as a result, discussion in class and work, collaborative projects and work on evaluations engaged with questions of colonialism in a way that I have never experienced teaching Constitutional Law before.

The resources that I drew upon in teaching the Indigenous component of the course included:

I also had Guest lectures by  Val Napoleon, John Borrows.  The students also listened to this phenomenal podcast, by UVic law grad (and singer-songwriter) Tara Williamson (please use with acknowledgement to Tara and to UVic Law): https://www.dropbox.com/s/81jgawpfl7h5zx1/Podcast%2014%20intro%20to%20s7.m4a?dl=0

I also tried to challenge the pedagogy used in each class, with an aim to use movement, the visual, art, and the diversity of learning styles of my students, to connect their learning and their emotions.

The questions that students were asked to answer as part of their evaluation included:

 Question one: Amongst other goals, this section of the course has asked you to think about the relationship between Indigenous Laws and the Canadian Constitutional order. To explore this relationship you are asked to choose one source (for example, an article, a book, or a film) that is external to our course materials and to offer a critical review of that source. Your analysis should draw on at least three of the sources our course has addressed with the goal of examining the tensions that exist between Indigenous and non-Indigenous legal orders. Do we truly live in a multi-juridical country? What happens when one set of legal orders can’t hear the other? How does your source contribute to a shifting understanding of law?

An example of an external source might be: Louise Erdrich’s novel The Round House (New York: Harper Collins, 2012); Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton’s children’s book Fatty Legs: A True Story (Toronto: Annick Press, 2010) or the Inuit film, Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner), Zacharias Kunuk, 2001.

Question two: Amongst other goals, this section of the course has offered you the opportunity to critically engage with s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, primarily through the cases that have interpreted that provision. In the SCC’s recent Tsilhqot’in Nation v British Columbia, 2014 SCC 44 decision, the Court held as follows:

[42] There is no suggestion in the jurisprudence or scholarship that Aboriginal title is confined to specific village sites or farms, as the Court of Appeal held. Rather, a culturally sensitive approach suggests that regular use of territories for hunting, fishing, trapping and foraging is “sufficient” use to ground Aboriginal title, provided that such use, on the facts of a particular case, evinces an intention on the part of the Aboriginal group to hold or possess the land in a manner comparable to what would be required to establish title at common law.

With attention to at least three sources that we have studied this term, how is the Court’s concern with a “culturally sensitive approach” reflected in Canadian law? Is the Court moving the jurisprudence in a new direction? What underlies this critical aspect of the judgment? What obstacles or concerns do you foresee with this approach?

 Question three: Amongst other goals, this section of the course has asked you to think about the role that colonialism plays in the “problem of prostitution.” Indeed, an argument of our course is that that the passion and creativity of the Idle No More movement has brought legal issues to light that might have otherwise lain dormant. With attention to at least three sources that we have studied together this term, what does looking at “the problem of prostitution” through the lens of the Idle No More movement bring to the surface? What systemic issues inherent in our study of the sex trade this term are elucidated through a colonialist or postcolonialist lens? How have the stories of Indigenous women been reflected, or not, in our journey through Constitutional law to date?

But significantly, issues of Indigeneity, colonialism, and being a residential-school survivor, were issues that were part of the student’s final evaluation, a factum that was to either challenge or defend Bill C-36. Teaching law in an integrated way, centring problem-solving as the primary skill, can lead to unexpected results.

I have never seen this kind of quality work from students in a first year class before, it was exhilarating and humbling to be part of – and I think there is lots to learn for how we approach the challenge the TRC recommendations set for law schools.