Implementing Indigenous Law in Agreements – Learning from “An Agreement Concerning the Stewardship of the Witness Blanket”

witness blanket

In October of 2019, through ceremony conducted in Kumugwe (the K’omoks First Nation Bighouse), the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) and Artist Carey Newman entered into “An Agreement Concerning the Stewardship of the Witness Blanket – A National Monument to Recognize the Atrocities of Indian Residential Schools” . Under this agreement, the Witness Blanket would find a permanent home in the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg.

https://humanrights.ca/exhibition/the-witness-blanket

A group of us from the Indigenous Law Research Unit at UVic had the privilege of being present at the Ceremony, watching as artist Carey Newman and the CMHR  (through its President and CEO John Young) entered into an agreement to be Joint Stewards to the Witness Blanket.  This agreement  is on the cutting edge of transsystemmic law.  It is governed, shaped, and enacted through a weaving together of Indigenous and Canadian legal understandings and protocols.  It contains both written and oral commitments.  More specifically, it draws both Kwakwaka’wakw traditional legal orders and Canadian Common Law into collaborative engagement.   Click on the link below to read more about the Ceremony.

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/art-and-architecture/article-the-witness-blanket-an-installation-of-residential-school-artifacts/ 

The experience of reading the Written Agreement and of attending the Ceremony was powerful on so many levels.  In particular, it was an inspiration and education on what might be possible in the work of law, as we think about next steps forward in legal education and practice.

Drawing on this experience, we drew on the Witness Blanket during the January segment of our Legal Process class this year.   In this post, we share a number of resources that might be helpful for people in law wanting to think more about many of the things to learn from both the Witness Blanket, and the Stewardship Agreement.  At the end of the post are a few comments on our own first experiences of drawing the Witness Blanket into the law school classroom.

We note here that the Agreement is shared with the permission of both Carey Newman and the Canadian Museum of Human Rights. Their willingness to have the agreement shared and made publicly visible is both a gift, and a teaching.  There is more to be said about this teaching, and about the powerful work of Ceremony, and the Oral component of this agreement.  I hope to return to those in a later post.

Here is a copy of the Agreement itself:

Witness Blanket Stewardship Agreement v04.4

This is an ‘annotated copy’ of the Agreement (Rebecca’s annotations) designed to organize some thoughts and make visible some aspects of the Agreement that can generate important conversations.

Annotated Witness Blanket Stewardship Agreement

BACKGROUND:   What IS the Witness Blanket?

WitnessBlanket (2)
Carey Newman and the Witness Blanket (photo credit: Doug Little/CMHR)

For those who have not yet encountered the Witness Blanket, it is described on its website as follows:

Inspired by a woven blanket, we have created a large scale art installation, made out of hundreds of items reclaimed from Residential Schools, churches, government buildings and traditional and cultural structures including Friendship Centres, band offices, treatment centres and universities, from across Canada. The Witness Blanket stands as a national monument to recognise the atrocities of the Indian Residential School era, honour the children, and symbolise ongoing reconciliation.

http://witnessblanket.ca/

THE DOCUMENTARY

There is a wonderful documentary on the Witness Blanket, produced by Carey Newman and Cody Graham of M1 Films https://m1films.ca/portfolio_page/witness-blanket/.  Below is a link to the Trailer for the movie.

 

There are two versions of the Documentary: one is 90 minutes, and the other is 55 minutes (edited down to make it easier for teachers to show it during a standard class time).  You can contact the CMHR to arrange to have it streamed (no cost involved).

The documentary is powerful in so many ways, and can open room for many conversations:

  • It gets at the history and legacy of residential schools
  • It provides an introduction to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement
  • It enables one to listen to the voices of a number of survivors, and does this in ways that are contextualized and respectful, and which take up land, place, voice, memory, and more
  • it gets at the intergenerational transfer of trauma, and at avenues for disrupting those injuries and patterns (for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike)
  • it opens space for looking at the relationships between art and law (including questions about problem solving, process, creativity and collaboration)

THE BOOK

51YgZU4Je7L._SY461_BO1,204,203,200_

Another great resource for background is a book about Witness Blanket, called ‘Picking up the Pieces”.  The book contains a collection of  stories and reflections on segments of the larger blanket.  It has many colour photos, and lots of closeups, and is organized so that you can explore small pieces of the Blanket in more intimate detail (along with stories related to the objects)

 

MEDIA CONVERSATIONS

Another resource is a 24 minute interview with Carey Newman on the APTN Program “Face-to-Face.”  He was being interviewed at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, during the launch of the book and Documentary “Picking up the Pieces: The Making of the Witness Blanket”.  It is a lovely introduction to both the artist, and the work.  Carey Newman speaks about community based and collaborative art practice, and there are some very interesting parallels there to legal practice and processes.  Also some lovely thoughts on how to carry ‘the weight’ of difficult stories.  I very much appreciated his comments about challenges in the ways we (artists and lawyers) attempt to tell complex and multi-layered stories.

 

 

A SIDE NOTE ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE WITNESS BLANKET, THE TRC AND THE IRRSA

It can be worth making visible the relationships between the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA), the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Witness Blanket.  There were 5 main components to the IRSSA (which was the settlement of the largest class action in Canadian History.   The first three involved agreements about payments that would be made to the parties to the action (still living survivors from a list of 139 schools co-managed by the federal government and 4 church organizations).  But the last two components aimed at involving all Canadians in the discussion, and in the work ahead.  These were:

  • The establishment of the TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION; and
  • The establishment of a fund to produce works of COMMEMORATION.

Of some significance is the fact that both the TRC and the Commemoration projects serve to benefit all of Canada.  That is, you can see both these projects as funded not by the government or churches, but by the survivors themselves (as they chose to direct payments forward to the future, rather than directly to themselves).  A moving gift to all of us.

And so, The Witness Blanket is one of the projects that emerged from the Commemoration component of the IRSSA, and is thus designed to engage all Canadians in the work of Truth and Reconciliation.   For more on the Terms of Reference for both the TRC and the Commemoration fund, you can follow the link below (see Schedule J and Schedule N:

http://www.residentialschoolsettlement.ca/settlement.html

The federal government also has a webpage that organizes some information around Indian Schools Settlement Agreement (including summaries and links to more information on both the TRC and the Commemoration Projects.

https://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1100100015576/1100100015577

SOME COMMENTS ON TEACHING WITH THE AGREEMENT

As mentioned at the beginning, we used the Agreement as part of our teaching during the during our Legal Process course in January.   Legal Process is a mandatory class for our first year students.  The majority of the class occurs in the first two weeks of September.  It is an intensive course where the students spend the two weeks in a combination of small and large group settings.  In the context of the small sections, they work in groups of 20 or so students and 3 teachers.  They return to those groups in January for 2 mornings which have been devoted in recent years to TRC work.

This year, the first morning focused primarily on the TRC, and the second morning on the Witness Blanket.   The second morning, there were three primary activities related to the Witness Blanket:

  • The students watched the Witness Blanket documentary as a group (an hour)
  • Students then met in their small groups to read the Stewardship Agreement.  They were given an “assignment” to help guide them in their reading.  Note, the premise of the assignment was that students could imagine themselves wanting to produce a postcast episode about the Witness Blanket.  There was no expectation that they would in fact complete such a task, but the hope was that this imagined activity might help guide their reading in ways that would direct their attention to the importance of sound, image, translation, collaboration and more.
  • Students returned with their questions to meet as a large group, where, through the magic of a Video linkup, they were able to listen to Heather Bidzinski (Head of Collections – Canadian Museum for Human Rights).  She spoke to them about her participation in the creation of the Stewardship Agreement, in the Oral Ceremony, and about challenges, lessons learned, and what is being carried forward through this form of legal work.

One of the powerful take away lessons for me came in Heather Bidzinski’s comments to the students that there were nearly a dozen prior versions of the Agreement, and that the work of arriving at the ‘final version’ involved more than two years of ‘building relations’. In short, she told them that the most powerful learnings came in the work PRIOR to the signing of the agreement.  The magic, she argued, is not so much IN the written text as it is in the RELATIONSHIP that was built between the Parties as they spent time and energy learning more about the ways they might work with each other.

This insight is helpful in thinking about how we do the work of teaching about the TRC in the classroom.   There is lots to be said about the concrete lessons plans and teaching materials, but also lots to be said about what we learn in the process of planning and trying to implement those plans.   Doing TRC related work is affectively challenging, and can require much from both faculty and from students.   One can anticipate that this work is more or less difficult for different students.  It is helpful to remain reflexive in the exercises, as there will be things to learn in each encounter about way to support learning, both by students and professors.  We acknowledge that we are baby-learners in this work, and that there are a number of bumps and bruises (both to ourselves and others) as we try to move ourselves along this path.

Some things we considered in setting up the exercise included:

  • There is great power in film to help convey some of these histories.   The Witness Blanket documentary is particularly powerful in this regard.  Let the students know this in advance, so they can be prepared for the different learning that can be enabled where they can see/hear/feel an argument.
  • Let the students know in advance that some of the students (and faculty and staff) have personal experience with residential school histories.  It is important to be alert to this in dealing with each other, and kindness and care are crucial.  The more advance notice, the better.  There is power in watching a film in a group, but it is also possible to leave space for students to do the watching in smaller or more intimate contexts.
  • If the material is linked to a mandatory element (as ours is), then it can be helpful to create space for some students who have concerns to complete the requirement through an alternative exercise (that does not require them to be in the classroom with other students).
  • We involved our Amicus team (counsellors and cultural support people), so that there were people and resources to support students for whom the affective load of the material felt too high.
  • For at least part of the time, students worked in small groups.  Each group had two professors and a grad student assigned to it, so there would be a range of experiences to draw on and from.
  • Advance workshops for faculty or students on Trauma-informed practice can be helpful.  It also can be useful to create space for Faculty to work with each other in advance, so that they feel comfortable both with the material, and in working with students.  It is helpful to remember that we, like the students, are often coming to the game with some gaps in prior knowledge about residential schools.  Some tenderness and care with each other (and not only with the students) can be very helpful in doing TRC work in the law school.

There is undoubtedly more to say, and there are many ways to learn with and from the Witness Blanket Agreement.    Certainly, for those of us in Law, the work of truth and reconciliation is the work of a lifetime.  It is hopeful having models to look at, models that can help us think through more useful questions about ways to do the work. The hope is that these resources/links can provide some context for others to also explore the power of this Agreement for the teaching and practice of law.

We would love to hear ideas and thoughts about things you have tried in your own classrooms and law schools, as well as comments about things that might be done differently!

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!