Our Voices, Our Stories

OUr Voices pic

“I want to get rid of the Indian problem… Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department…”

Deputy Superintendent of the Department of Indian Affairs (1913-1932), Duncan Campbell Scott

My grandmother, Jean Jones/Borrows, ran away from home so she would not have to attend residential school in Ontario. Her siblings did not run away, and were taken to residential school. My grandma still expresses guilt that she could not help her siblings. She says, “sometimes there are things in life you can’t get over, but I believe you can get through them”.

From 1929-1975, an estimated 9,200 Indigenous children attended St. Michael’s Residential School in Alert Bay, BC.

One week ago I watched a film by renowned director Barbara Cranmer (‘Namgis First Nation) entitled, Our Voice, Our Stories. It told Truth. It showed Reconciliation. It illustrated Indigenous law in action—ceremony, mending harms, decision-makers coming together in deliberation, and the ongoing obligations to share stories.

The film was a story of people tending to a wound that they might not get over, but that they are getting through. The film showed residential school survivors coming together along with their descendants and allies from across British Columbia to watch the demolition of St. Michael’s Residential School. It was inspiring to see people together again to continue their healing.

One does not usually think of a demolition as a ceremony. For those who attended St. Michael’s Residential School, the school’s destruction was a form of emotional, intellectual, cultural and spiritual reconstruction. People wore button blankets, cedar woven hats, smudged with medicinal plants, sang, cried, embraced, told stories, and came together. The crumbling of the red brick school building lined with narrow rectangular windows stood in stark contrast to the strength of the people who participated in the ceremony. The sparkling blue ocean, surrounding forests and distant mountains also witnessed the ceremony.

What stood out to me the most out of the dialogue in the film was a young girl who said she saw a little boy’s spirit leave the residential school during the demolition. She said he looked happy to be leaving. To hear that acknowledgement of freedom coming from such a young voice gave me shivers and hope.

During the question and answer session filmmaker Cranmer said there are no plans yet as to what will replace the demolished school in that now empty space. While law schools will likely not physically build anything in that empty physical place, the spaces in people’s minds can be filled with knowledge and discussion about how to heal and learn moving forward. Barbara has not yet made any specific plans about teaching curriculum to share the film but she is very open to being contacted to allow people access to the film and to use it as a teaching resource. Her band office can be contacted. It is an informative and affective resource for bringing Our Voice to Our Stories.

The trailer can be watched at: https://vimeo.com/141833166 

 

 

 

Idea for First Year Criminal Law?: Teach a class on R v. Kikkik (1958)

118136408_640If you are looking for a unit to add into your Criminal Law class, I would recommend taking up the 1958 case R v. Kikkik.

This was the high profile trial of an Inuk woman who was charged with murder (for killing her brother-in-law, who had killed her husband), and with child abandonment (for leaving two of her children behind when she tried to walk the 45 miles to nearest trading post).  These events took place in the winter of 1958, after the Ahiarmiut had been ‘relocated’ from their traditional lands at Ennadai Lake to Henik Lake (to a place hundreds of miles away, where there were no caribou, and where many Ahiarmiut starved to death).

I don’t think the case shows up in any of the mainstream criminal law texts, but was one of the big showtrials of its time (covered by TimeLife).  As a result, there is lots of material to drawn on for teaching!  Part of what it makes it a great case to teach, especially in first year, is that there is a documentary film you can use!  In what might be the only example I can call to mind, the documentary is made by Kikkik’s daughter, Educator Elisapee Karetak (who was a baby at the time). [Elisapee was also a cultural advisor to the first Akitiraq Law Degree Program]

I use this film/case in the very first few weeks of the class.  I don’t have them do any mandatory readings, i just arrange for them to see the film.  I have tried both having a lab session (in which they watch together), and simply letting them watch it on their own time.  There are different advantages to each approach.  The film is accessible on Vimeo (“Kikkik” https://vimeo.com/18742945.

After they have seen the film, we spend class time talking about “the facts” (as seen by the criminal justice system), both the successes and limits of that system, and then work outwards in layers to explore what other harms are present, what is not visible within the Canadian justice system, and the after-effects into the future.

Though it is early in the term, the case is memorable and carries its weight, so that we can return to it throughout the year (much in the way that some scholars use the Marshall inquiry).  My experience is that the first few week are not “too early.”

What you get is:

  • a really compelling narrative (which makes it accessible for students)
  • a rich text (which means  you can work with it on many levels, which means it works both for students with more and with less prior education/knowledge/experience with the intersection of crim and colonization)
  • both historical distance (which makes the case somewhat easier to process), and an active layering into the present (which makes visible connections between past and present)

I have been using the film/case in my criminal law class (for the past 10 years) and have found the case to be both powerful and pedagogically awesome.  (I should also say that i have taught it in different ways in different years, and have learned new things from it each time…. i think this is a great case for people wanting to start to take small steps in shifting their materials, and it would work no matter what case book you were using)

Pedagogy Notes:

  • it is a fantastic way of including the history of arctic relocations, and of the “e-number system”
  • it is a case that the judicial system “got right” (people can feel good about the possibility that the judicial system can get it right… but can also see why ‘getting it right’ is not enough)
  • It makes visible the ways that the larger systemic harms suffered by the Ahirarmiut were completely invisible to the Canadian judicial system (that is, criminal law doesn’t easily make visible the harm of relocation itself). This weaves itself back into the materials throughout the year
  • it raises questions of gender, necessity, self-defence, mothers-and-babies-in-jail, child apprehensions, right to counsel, confessions, translation, juries, judges charges to juries, media coverage of judicial system, etc etc.  [especially if you use the transcript].  There are many ways you can easily refer back to the case throughout the year in ways that support better knowledge about the history of Aboriginal/Crown relations.
  • Because this case was a HUGE show trial in the 50s (made the world stage), there are lots of materials you could draw on: The trial transcript, media coverage, sculptures, films. This means that the case/film works well with a variety of different learning styles

OTHER COMMENTS ON RESOURCES:

  • UVic has a copy of the trial transcript (for the murder trial) in our law library. In an upper year legal theory course, the students read the whole transcript.  I don’t do that in first year crim, but there are some parts of it that are really excellent for teaching with! I made a PDF copy for the students, divided into two PDFs
  • If you like to use images in class, here is a link to the powerpoint I sometimes use.  Feel free to modify, extend, alter, make it your own, etc.
  • If someone wanted to read more about it, I wrote an article that looks at the 4 genres in which the story could be told (i don’t assign it, but it can be helpful background for someone wanting to familiarize themselves with the story, or pull things out of bibliography…or if you want to talk about genres of justice, and challenge the assumption that justice finds its purest expression in the genre of criminal law cases) 
  • there are two versions of the film.  The shorter vimeo one (link above), and a longer one that has an additional 30 minutes of footage taken after the elders had returned to the home from which they had been moved.  I really love the longer version, but it is only online in the inuktitut version (as far as I can tell).  Students find it easier to access the shorter version.  If you have time to do a larger screening, the longer one has additional material that is very powerful.

OK.   other suggestions welcomed!