“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.

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!

Finding Resources Close to my Shuswap (Secwepmc) Home

By Rebecca Johnson

TRC Recommendation #28 says:

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.

I have been thinking about how to develop curriculum that addresThe view from my mom's Shuswap homeses this recommendation, and in doing so, have been thinking about how to make this recommendation more ‘personal’.  That is, I have been thinking about ways the recommendation could be rooted in my own sense of “home”.  What would it mean to find resources that speak to my own embedding, as a Settler-Canadian, in these histories?  What would it mean to see MYSELF in this history?  And so, I started to think about resources that are linked to my ‘heart-home’:  the Shuswap Lake.

Here are some pieces I have been thinking might work together as a pod of resources, one which is located in BC (given my location here), and which is located in the Shuswap (Secwepmc territory)  where I spend my summers.

I thought it a good place to start because I have spent so much of my life there, I deeply love the land there, and grew up (like many Settler Canadians) knowing NOTHING of the real history of the place, or of the law of the Secwepmc, or of this history of Setter/Secwepmc interactions.

Partly, I wonder if one way for many of us in law schools to start doing this work is to start it from the place that we are AT.  That is, to try to gather together the resources that might enable us to really teach our students in the spaces that they learn… so they begin to see how the various stories of law are all around them in a very concrete way.

I do not, of course, think that is the ONLY way to approach the work, but I do wonder about the ways the work might feel if we take seriously the ways in which we too (i am presuming a settler ‘we’ here, but am open to conversation on that point) are living on particular places, and might benefit from taking seriously the histories and resources of those places.

And so, here is a first intervention, and I REALLY welcome ideas and feedback about resources, stories, documents that might work together to think about law school curricula linked to Secwepmc territory.

so… a starting place might be basic information about the territory, told from the perspective of current indigenous political communities.  As a starting place, it might involve some attention to using the names indigneous communities use for themselves.  So… if not ‘drop’ the Shuswap, then at least think about also usins Secwepmc (or at least beginning the discussions of naming).  And so, maybe begin with some links to how the communities describe themselves and their lands.  Maybe a link like this? http://tkemlups.ca/our-land/

Might be useful to start with questions about land and governance.

  • Memorial, to Sir Wilfred Laurier, From the Chiefs of the Shuswap, Okanagan and Couteau Tribes of British Columbia. Presented at Kamloops, B.C. August 25, 1910 

http://shuswapnation.org/to-sir-wilfrid-laurier/

Then, what about histories of residential schools?  In this case, we have a wonderful memorie written by a student who attended the Williams Lake residential school.

  • They-called-me-number-one-250x386 Bev Sellars, They Called Me Number One.

This book came highly recommended by friends.  I just finished it last weekend.  So much in there to talk about and discuss.  Here is a link to a short review of it:

https://www.alumni.ubc.ca/2014/events/book-club/they-called-me-number-one-by-bev-sellars/

The book is full of material that could link in easily to any number of courses and topics.  It deals with language, parenting, land, education, torts, crime, politics, policing, governance, religion, hope, despair, etc.

There are some very obvious links to mainstream curriculum.  For example, the Principal at the Williams Lake Residential School was Archbishop O’Connor (familiar in the criminal law curriculum with respect to the right of an accused to have access to the private counselling records of a ‘complainant’ in a sexual assault case).   I found it interesting to re-think/teach the story of O’Connor against the context of the work done in Bev Sellar’s memoire.

  •  R v. O’Connor

          http://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/1323/index.do

Another recourse to link in could be this:

  • Report on the Caribou-Chilcotin Justice Inquiry 1993

http://www.llbc.leg.bc.ca/public/pubdocs/bcdocs/149599/cariboochilcotinjustice.pdf

Here, there is a chance to look at the Report of an Inquiry, and in this case, a fairly short report.  Nicely, Bev Sellars was involved in the Inquiry, so her memoire provides an occasion to ask questions about what does or does not end up in the Report of the Inquiry itself.

  • Links to the present might include exploration of the 2010 BCLA intervention in on-going conflict between RCMP and the Williams Lake Community (which gives an opportunity to explore how contemporary moments of conflict find roots in the deeper histories)

https://bccla.org/news/2010/09/conflict-between-rcmp-and-aboriginal-community-in-williams-lake-must-be-investigated-and-resolved-says-bccla/

Well… this is just a start.  Would love to hear ideas from others about how these pieces might be pulled together (or substituted with others) in the interests of moving towards TRC2015 Recommendation #28