Part of TRC Calls to Action #27 and #28 includes training in “intercultural competency”. I find myself reflecting on the very real challenge for many of us working in law: how do we as professors strengthen the grounds of our own intercultural competency? Part of what we are engaged in is a new practice of balancing. What resources are available to both students and faculty alike?
There are some very interesting resources out there and available in the world. Just as one example, here at UVic, our colleagues Robina Thomas and Rob Hancock at the office of Indigenous Academic and Community Engagement have developed a Cultural Acumen Training, program, and have been providing the first module (an 80 minute ‘foundations’ session) to Faculty, to staff, and in classrooms. It is a delight (and a politically meaningful one) to see institutional support for the kind of learning/unlearning that has to be done as we move forward on this work. One of the ways I think all of us can contribute to the work is to support and make use of the resources available in our particular institutions (conscious of course of the thoughtful cautions of Jula Hughes re the colonization of cultural competency work).
I also want to do a big shout out to University of Alberta, and their Indigenous Canada MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) [taught by Professors Tracy Bear and Paul Gareau]. It is a wonderful response to the TRC, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
If I were to suggest a gift for the holidays, it would be to give yourself the gift of signing up for this course. OK. The thing is, this gift is FREE! But you can also pay for it. I think it was something like $65 if you want to take it for the Certificate. I took the PAYMENT option, partly as a way of trying to keep myself accountable (and so i would have a small amount of pressure, so i would TAKE the time needed each week to actually DO the work).
The Course is super well designed, and has 12 lessons/weeks. The site tells you to anticipate a time commitment of 3-5 hours a work per week. I will say it took me less time… maybe because i am just so smart already?! 🙂 That said, i have subsequently returned to and re-watched several components (sometimes with my kids), so there you go on the time front.
Here some truly delicious things about the course:
It is in manageable time chunks! The course is online (I guess that is why one of the “O”s in “MOOC” is for “online?”) It has been designed so you can work around a fragmented schedule (if your life works as does mine). It is broken down into small video components (each between 10 and 20 minutes long at the most). The videos have little quizzes built into them (so you can answer questions right at the spot that you are getting access to new information). I totally enjoyed watching a segment or two in the evening, sometimes while eating dinner.
There is art! In the design of the course, they worked with artist Leah Dorion, to have her produce original art work for the course. For each week in the course, there is “Interactive Painting” segment where the artist walks you through one of the paintings, discussing the elements in the painting, and how they relate to the subject. Various elements from the paintings are then incorporated (as visual markers) into the weekly lessons in ways that really help to anchor and extend the content.
There is significant breadth in coverage. Topics for the 12 lessons include the fur trade and other exchange relationships, land claims and environmental impacts, Indigenous women, legal systems and rights, political conflicts and alliances, Indigenous political activism,urban Indigenous governance practices, contemporary Indigenous life, art and its expressions and more. There is also a great 49 page “Native Studies Glossary” with links to internet resources.
The production values make it a pleasure to watch. We academics are smart, but not always fun to watch when filmed. They did a really good job on the design, and so I found the mix of talking heads, images, animations, and text to really hold my attention. It is designed in a way to touch various learning styles. In short, the videos not only held my attention, but gave me lots to think about in terms of pedagogies! I am also in love with the intro music for the course (and often found myself humming along).
In short, there are great resources out there to support us as we do the work of extending our own intercultural acumen, of familiarizing ourselves with the history that is our own. This is a resource that I would feel comfortable recommending to students and colleagues alike. Certainly worth thinking about as a concrete action each of us can take in the direction of taking up our own personal obligations under the TRC to educate ourselves for the work ahead.
Sometimes I wonder if life in a law school doesn’t involve a “Midas Effect” — that is, everywhere you turn, everything you touch seems to involve (or become?) law. I have been noticing this myself with respect to the law school’s ongoing obligations under TRC Call to Action #28. I have been increasingly noticing how often questions of Indigenous Law seem to be in my field of vision. Or perhaps I am only now beginning to see/acknowledge what was there all along?
Here is a specific. I was on a phone call with my sister this morning, and the conversation (which was focused as it often is on activities with kids) moved from stories about the family dog, to piles of laundry and Orange Shirt Day and finally turning to the Louis Riel Opera with the Nisga’a song in it. What, said I? A Louis Riel Opera with a Nisga’a song in it?! I had missed that discussion (a list of links to media discussions about the opera follow below)
As is our way, my inner interrogator emerged, and so the conversation turned to questions about music, appropriation, and intellectual property law. It was not the conversation I expected, but it has really had me thinking all day. And it had me thinking about how a piece like the Louis Riel Opera could open space for a discussion of Indigenous Law in a very particularized way: that is, in the context of a Nisga’a song being drawn into a Settler/Canadian piece of music. We have here an encounter involving two legal orders, each of which has rules about the creation and performance of music.
I asked my sister if she would write up a few paragraphs that I could share on this blog, paragraphs that would capture the essence of our conversation, with its questions about what the Opera might have to teach us about law and legality. She, still sometimes pressed to fill the role of ‘relatively compliant younger sibling’, agreed!
“THINKING WITH AND ABOUT MUSIC” – Mary Johnson
I am a settler who grew up on Treaty 7 territories. I graduated from the University of Calgary with a Bachelor of Art in Canadian Studies. I love Canada. I love being exposed to Canadian art, music, and literature. I now live in Ottawa/Gatineau on unceded traditional territory of the Algonquin Nation. Because I live in the Nation’s Capital Region, I am constantly surrounded by opportunities to participate in cultural activities celebrating Canada and its diverse talents. These opportunities were intensified in 2017 with the Canada 150 celebrations. I often felt conflicted during these celebrations as I don’t think Canada’s nation-building efforts are to be celebrated as such. We need to not only acknowledge the harm Canada’s nation-building efforts have brought to Canada’s Indigenous peoples, but we also need to recognize these harms are not only historical, they are on-going. Every Canadian needs to be engaged in doing the work of reconciliation.
With this in mind, I tried to be thoughtful and deliberate about my participation. When I realized I would have the chance to take my family to see the Louis Riel opera, I wanted to attend. I love opera, and there is a not a lot of Canadian opera. But I was also very aware that this opera would be infused with appropriation. Before the performance, I had read about some of the innovative ways this 50th anniversary production of the Opera attempted to acknowledge this appropriation, including a Land Assembly, a mostly silent group on the ground, dressed in red to represent Metis and First Nations peoples. For me, watching the Land Assembly bear witness through the opera was very powerful.
What I had not read about in advance was not expecting, and what perhaps touched me the most, was a pre-show in the lobby by a group of Nisga’a Nation singers. The group then moved onto the Opera stage to open the show. A musical highlight of the opera is the third act’s opening aria, Song of Skateen. The Kuyas lullaby is sung by Riel’s wife, Marguerite. As noted in the program, the song is actually a Nisga’a lament from the West Coast, incorrectly used by Somers and Moore (the composers of the opera) in this context. Nisga’a protocol dictates such songs must only be sung at the appropriate times and only by those who hold the hereditary right to sing them. To shed light on this, a prelude to the opera featured a group of Nisga’a Nation singers, who acknowledged the fact the song was taken from them, and performed a victory song of their own.
I think this example of the Louis Riel opera taking and misusing a Nisga’a song provides an opportunity to initiate discussions around compensation for the use of cultural/intellectual property. Western intellectual property laws often focus on monetary compensation for the use of cultural property, or address use through licensing. But what are other possibilities where monetary compensation does not come close to addressing the issue? What other ways could we approach this situation? How do different indigenous legal systems work through such conflicts?
As non-Indigenous faculty and graduate student teaching in the disciplines of Sociology and Women & Gender Studies, we regularly include discussions of settler colonialism in our course material. And, as teachers in disciplines that encourage critical thinking about societal power arrangements, we wish to develop learning resources in ways that build accountability to the TRC’s calls for reconciliation and Indigenous scholars’ calls for decolonization.To this end, we were awarded a small grant from our university in which we proposed to develop pedagogical tools that would more tangibly speak to the colonial politics of knowledge production, trouble the idea that settler colonialism is of the past, and ‘unsettle’ the racial and heteronormative colonial logics of identity and belonging.
Situated as we are at a post-secondary institution built into Blackfoot territories and in close proximity to the largest land-based reserve in the nation, we have a student body that seems to experience settler colonialism in a variety of ways, directly and/or recognizing its importance, or as completely disconnected from their everyday life. It is this full range of student experiences that we attempt to invite into an ‘unsettling’ pedagogy.
We offer here a discussion of one assignment we designed called “Pulling the Weeds.” The assignment was designed to foreground land as crucial to decolonization and to provoke student thinking on the relations between themselves, land, property, and nationhood in a local context (Tuck & Yang, 2012). Students were to (1) read the Wikipedia entry for spotted knapweed and submit a hard copy, marked with notes and/or highlighted excerpts; (2) go out on to the prairie and find the knapweed; (3) document the experience of picking it; and (4) write short responses to versions of the following questions:
Describe the experiences of seeking out the knapweed.
Describe the sensory elements of picking the knapweed (how did the soil smell, what was the texture of the weed, etc.).
Where did you pick the weeds? Whose land were you on?
What is your relationship to the patch of land that you picked the weed on?
Write on your (dis)identifications with the knapweed or the plants that you left in the ground.
Why do you think I asked you to pull an invasive plant species in this course?
What connections can you make to this week’s readings?
The activity was assigned in a second year feminist theory course, a third year sociology of race and ethnicity course, and in a graduate level methods and theory course. The readings that students were required to complete varied from course to course, and ranged from Leanne Simpson’s (2014) Land as Pedagogy: Nishnaabeg Intelligence and Rebellious Transformation, Adrienne Rich’s (1994) Notes Toward a Politics of Location, and chapters from Audra Simpson’s (2014) Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States.
Students were encouraged not to worry about having the correct answer. They were encouraged to be creative and thoughtful, and to respond even if they were unsure of a question’s meaning. In spite of the bewildered looks when we asked them to go weed-picking, the very physical nature of the assignment expressed in their papers (the heat of the sun, the toughness of the weed’s roots, the itchiness of the weed, the pleasure of being outside), and the anxiety expressed about not being able to ‘find’ knapweed and hence complete the assignment, students wrote rich, varied, complicated, and thoughtful reflection papers. In their course evaluations, some students articulated the transformative learning that occurred from this assignment, suggesting that we delivered in fulfilling our institutional motto, “Fiat Lux” (Let there be Light).
However, we also wish to reflect here on two inter-related sets of limitations to the assignment.
The first set of limitations is related to the mechanics of the assignment and the strictures placed around it by virtue of being developed and carried out in the context of a post-secondary institution. We asked students to pick knapweed only once, but now wonder about requiring multiple knapweed pulls over the early fall months of the semester as part of an ongoing reflexivity-praxis assignment. Leanne Simpson (2014) writes in “Land as Pedagogy: Nishnaabeg Intelligence and Rebellious Transformation” that theory is not just an intellectual pursuit – “it is woven within kinetics, spiritual presence and emotion, it is contextual and relational. It is intimate and personal, with individuals themselves holding the responsibilities for finding and generating meaning within their own lives” (p. 7). This beautifully captures our aspirational desires for this assignment.
We wonder, then, what effect(s) several knapweed pulls might have on students, on their intimate engagements with the prairie, on their meaning-making of social locations, on fostering the process of an ‘unsettling’ pedagogy? Moreover, how would a focus on the restoration or identification of native plant species (rather than only on the eradication of invasive ones) shift the performative and meaning-making axis of this assignment? Yet, as Simpson also reminds us, neither the practice of picking knapweed nor the restoration of native plant species can be performative of land as pedagogy when the necessary conditions are not in place. For Simpson, such conditions include the requirement that our post-secondary institutions ensure “the full, valued recognition of [Indigenous] freedom, sovereignty and self- determination over bodies, minds and land” (p. 17).
The second set of limitations has to do with some of the oversimplifications of the assignment. We required students to identify knapweed with the help of a Wikipedia page that, among other things, describes the weed’s ‘systematics and taxonomy.’ We chose this website because it is highly likely that it would be among the first sites a student might otherwise visit to find out more about knapweed, and because the literary practices constituting the webpage’s knowledge production remind us of those employed in the classificatory work at the heart of scientific racism and the colonial project. What we did not foresee, however, was the extent to which students would rely on the language of the Wikipedia entry to explain their processes of weed identification thereby unwittingly reproducing and reifying colonial systems of classification. This constitutes more than a limitation for us; it is also a failure of the assignment.
Complicating this, students’ papers drew parallels between the tenacious ability of knapweed to stunt the growth of other plants and the white settlers who worked to invade and take over Indigenous bodies, lands, and lifeways. This raises a number of concerns for us. First, despite our attempt to heed Tuck and Yang’s (2012) warning, the assignment provokes primarily metaphorical understandings of knapweed as settler colonialism and its eradication as decolonization. Second, this metaphor relies upon and reproduces a settler/Indigenous dyad as ahistorical and naturally existing. Third, it naturalizes a hostile relationship between the two, the outcome of which is both anticipated and assumed final. How can this then constitute the assignment as an ‘unsettling’ pedagogy? As problematizing settler colonialism “as a living phenomenon?” (Monture 2007, p. 207). Moreover, we worry that in attempting to address “the settler problem” (Regan 2010, p. 11), we inadvertently re-centered precisely that which we hoped to unsettle. This is a failure for us. One of the unforeseen outcomes in attempting ‘unsettling’ pedagogy is producing communities of individuals who embody and enact another version of settlerhood, that of the enlightened settler. We realize that we must be vigilant about the subtle and less obvious forms that uphold settler colonialism: we worry that success in teaching about colonization that leaves any room for a redeemable enlightened and benevolent settler subject (including ourselves as teachers), whose governments have apologized and who ‘know better’ than earlier generations, is part of the ongoing remaking of settlement.
One of our intimate attachments is to be ‘good’ teachers, that is, to teach anti-colonization and antiracism on the Blackfoot territories occupied by the University of Lethbridge in a way that avoids the pitfalls of pedagogies of inclusion and the fallacy of ‘safe spaces’. We share our experience of this assignment in the conviction that the moments of disorder, failure and uncertainty that arise within our teaching practices are sometimes necessary mis-steps. Though such practices may propel us towards imagining other, perhaps less colonial, ways of being in and of the world, they are also only made because of the colonial foundations on which our presence here as teachers and citizens resides.
Pulling the Weeds was inspired in part by a published conversation between Snelgrove, Dhamoon, and Corntassel (2014) wherein Corntassel describes efforts, largely on the part of Cheryl Bryce of the Songhees First Nation, and a “Community Tool Shed”, to revive Lekwungen “foodscapes and landscapes” (p. 25). The Community Tool Shed, located in what is now commonly called Victoria, B.C., is a site that brings together Indigenous and non-Indigenous folks who work to rid Lekwungen homelands of invasive plant species and to foster traditional plant growth.
Monture, P.A. (2007). Racing and erasing: Law and gender in white settler societies. In S. P. Hier and B.S. Bolaria, eds. Race & racism in 21st century Canada: Continuity, complexity, and change (197-216). Peterborough: Broadview Press.
Regan, P. (2010). Unsettling the settler within: Indian residential schools, truth telling, and reconciliation in Canada. Vancouver: UBC Press.
Rich, A. (1994). Notes towards a politics of location (1984). In A. Rich (Ed.), Blood, bread and poetry: Selected Prose 1979-1985 (210-231). London: Little Brown & Co.
Simpson, A. (2014). Mohawk interruptus: Political life across the borders of settler states. Durham & London: Duke University Press.
Simpson, L. B. (2014). Land as pedagogy: Nishnaabeg intelligence and rebellious transformation. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 3(3), 1-25.
Snelgrove, C., Dhamoon, R., & Corntassel, J. (2014). Unsettling settler colonialism: The discourse and politics of settlers, and solidarity with Indigenous nations. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 3(2), 1-32.
Tuck, E. & Yang, K.W. (2012). Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 1(1), 1-40.
For the past few months, our “Looking Out For Each Other” research team has been conducting community consultations with a view to establishing a helpline for families and friends of Indigenous folk who go missing in Eastern Canada. In the course of these consultations, something has come up a number of times that seemed worth sharing among educators, viz. a concern by Indigenous businesses and not-for-profits that academics are getting in on the work of cultural competency training. Of course it is good that many faculties and departments are working towards developing cultural competencies in their students. And it’s great that some faculty are mobilizing that knowledge beyond campus. Apparently though, these efforts have sometimes resulted in academics using their privileged position as salaried workers to undercut the bids of Indigenous consultants who have been doing this work, in many cases for decades. So if your institution, faculty or department is developing curriculum and you are thinking of offering workshops to organizations, institutions or government departments, you may want to make sure that you are not replicating and/or competing with services that an Indigenous business or not-for-profit is offering in your area. One easy way to do this is to reach out to the band office of your local First Nation community, your Native Council and Friendship Centre for information about existing service offerings.
[Ed. note] The following post is a report by educator Tasha Henry, discussing a recent partnership between the Art Gallery of Victoria, and students in three schools. The work here, which was done with Grade 3 and 4 students, is a very interesting model of the kind of work one might consider when thinking about Art as intervention in the TRC Calls to Action (and indeed, art as intervention within a law school context). We thought folks would find it thought-provoking (and a bit inspiring!) Here, then, is the post by Tasha[and she has permission from the students and families to use the photos appearing in this post]
Taking a place at the table:
Art as Intervention in a Time of Reconciliation
By Tasha Henry
In collaboration with several artists of a recent exhibit at the Greater Victoria Art Gallery, entitled “It’s in the Making”, Selkirk Montessori students, were initiated into the world of art installation with contemporary artists who challenge the notion of art as product. The students met with Nicholas Galanin, Tlingit/Aleut artist and Cedric, Nate and Jim Bomford while they constructed their installations in the gallery. The grade 3-4 students interviewed the artists with questions such as:
“Why is art installation important?
When do you know when your art is finished?
How is art an intervention?”
The students then attempted their own installation work in the gallery mansion as a response to their ongoing work with Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, “Calls to Action”.
Art installation as social intervention felt like the appropriate vehicle to explore the children’s emerging awareness and questions around the devastating history of Residential Schooling in Canada. As teachers, we are in the unique position to respond to the TRC’sCalls to Action in ways that model sensitive and historically respectful approaches to Canada’s shameful investment in Residential Schooling. Rather than approach this work as a prescriptive curriculum, we approached the concept of reconciliation as a process of responding to the ongoing impacts of colonialism on Indigenous communities. It was important to us that the children’s work around redress be responsive, multi-voiced and open ended.
To prepare for the day of the installation, for months, the children studied and learned from the Lkwungen First Peoples’ history and the traditional territories on which our school stands, known today as the Esquimalt and Songees Nations. The children were honoured to receive teachings by such highly esteemed and beloved artists and elders such as Richard Hunt (Kwakwaka’wakw), Butch Dick (Songhees), Monique Gray Smith (Lakota/Cree), and Ron George, Heredity Chief Tsaskiy (Wet’suwet’en).
They studied the cultural traditions of the Coast Salish First Peoples by attempting artistic forms such as beading, sewing button “blankets” on felt, and by constructing their own cardboard “cedar bentwood boxes”. They expanded their learning to conceptual art by analyzing the work of two contemporary Tlingit artists, Nicholas Galanin and Blake Lepine. The students were also introduced to the history of Residential Schooling through Nicola Campbell and Kim La Fave’s acclaimed children’s books, Shi-Shi-etko and Shin-chi’s Canoe.
The students were then given a white ceramic plate (bought from The Salvation Army) where they created their own free hand drawings using only red and black Sharpie markers. On the day of the installation, the students brought their ceramic white plates with their drawings carefully illustrated through a mix of personal designs and traditionally influenced images.
With the guidance of elder and artist, Butch Dick, the children were taught the importance of ceremony and the symbolism of laying a table in the Songhees tradition. They were asked to place their plates in the dining room area in a spot that meant something to them in relation to their understanding of the history of Residential Schooling in Canada.
With reverent gestures and words, the students spoke to their installation choices. They had been particularly struck by the descriptions of malnourishment from the testimonies of Residential School Survivors. Many of the children hid their plates under the large oak table, or under the chairs to represent the starvation of Indigenous children while at school. As the installation took its living form, the children chose to turn the chairs on their side, and to cluster their plates in the corners of the room to represent the upheaval of home and culture due to mandated schooling for Indigenous children.
Shion: “We put our plate above the fireplace so that people could remember the children that didn’t get to have these plates in Residential School. The fireplace is a symbol of First Nations hope”
James: “I put my plate away from everyone else’s because people were trying to destroy their culture and keep it away from them. Our plate represents the culture that was taken away from the kids.”
Maciah: “We put our plate on a shelf on a smaller table because maybe not all kids got to sit at the table and maybe had to sit on the floor. It was meaningful because we are bringing back the memory of First Nations kids who were forced to go to Residential Schools.”
By inserting their voices through the act of installation the students experienced a powerful social intervention. They were called to speak to their intentions to disturb the establishment of the Greater Victoria Art Gallery, on their own terms, in their own words. As Layla, a grade 3 student said, “When I made the drawing I felt I was learning about the culture and also doing something kind for the children by drawing their designs”. The children realized quickly that their art work was not for them; it was not a product to take home or display on the wall. As Adison said, “I like that some people learned that not everything is for yourself you have to make things for others, as well and learn about other cultures”.
In the collective experience of installing their art work as a social intervention, witnessed by their teachers and Butch Dick, who himself is a Survivor of Residential Schooling, the children experienced the importance of standing up for those who have been silenced. Jamie, a new student from Japan, reflected on the experience with poignant simplicity, “the kids couldn’t see their parents for a long time. So, we honour them.”.
After the children installed their work and spoke to their choices, we circled the installation and read this quote out loud:
“We are thankful for these and all the good things of life. We recognize that they are part of our common heritage and come to us through the efforts of our brothers and sisters the world over. What we desire for ourselves, we wish for all. To this end, may we take our place in the world’s work and the world’s struggle.” (J.S. Woodsworth)
When teaching a response to the Calls to Action, we can only hope that we are able to model what social justice learning looks like within the various institutions that frame social thought. This is not work that can rely on detached lessons within the confines of a classroom. The work of reconciliation must be work with the First Peoples of the land from which we learn, through meaningful, conscious and open ended forms that refrain from a settler agenda, or desired outcome. By precisely not desiring an outcome or a finished product, the children’s temporary installation became a visual testament to the missing and unaccounted for children due to Residential Schooling. On that day, it wasn’t our words that filled the space, it was the sound of children moving with intention, fuelled by a quiet collective heat burning within each of them, to seek retribution for children they had never met. Their innate desire for reparation permeated the space, and moved them to set a place at the table for the Indigenous children who were not permitted their rightful place in Canadian society.
Tasha Henry (who wrote the post on “Art as Intervention“) sent an additional note pointing to a toolkit resource they had found especially helpful for teachers and professionals trying to organize reconciliation events. She noted the following tips:
Ensure that the location is culturally safe and accessible to everyone invited.
Ensure proper acknowledgement of the territory at the start of the event.
Where possible, invite an Elder to open the event with a blessing and invite them to give you direction and advice to ensure proper protocol is being followed. Be sure to find out how best to honour their time and contribution.
Where possible, explore ways to incorporate Indigenous cultural practices into the event in a respectful manner, such as singing and drumming by Indigenous community members. Make sure to honour this contribution.
Approach guests/speakers as early as possible, and ensure that all aspects of the event including honorariums are clearly communicated in writing.
Arrange for food and drinks. Sharing food is an essential part of the event.
Where possible, invite participants across sectors and cultures (e.g. multicultural organizations, Indigenous organizations, faith based organizations, the justice system, restorative justice groups, Ministry of Children and Family Development, First Nations Court workers, social service workers, counsellors, health care professional, women’s organizations, child and family services etc.)
This discussion may be triggering to some participants, so make sure that supports and opportunities for debriefing are available on-site.
Consider funding costs to cover transportation for guest speakers if required.
In the middle of the last gasps of marking law school final exams, I find myself mentally (and, frankly, emotionally) caught up in discussions about the upcoming Fontainecase at the Supreme Court of Canada. So… I thought I might as well get my stresses and anxieties articulated.
As I best understand it, the Fontaine case concerns what to do with the 38,000 (highly personal and confidential) records (plus another million supporting documents) that were collected or created during the Independent Assessment Processs set up as part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Act (IRSSA). (The Settlement gave us both the IAP and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission).
At the time survivors gave their testimony in the IAP, it was not made clear to survivors what would happen to the records. Now there is significant contestation: should the records be kept by Archives Canada? By the NCTR (National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation)? Should they be destroyed? Should individual former students have a say in the matter?
The resolution was to give individual former students a 15 year window to come forward if they wanted their documents archived with the NCTR. At the end of that period, all remaining documents are to be destroyed. The SCC will hear the case on May 25, 2017.
The Coalition to Preserve Truth has been granted Intervenor status in the case (artist Carey Newman, and lawyer Nicole Bresser have been driving forces behind the coalition). The Coalition is described thus:
We are the Coalition for the Preservation of Truth whose members are representatives of both residential school survivors and intergenerational residential school survivors. The coalition is formed to advocate for the preservation of the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement – Individual Assessment Program’s documents. The Coalition recognizes the ongoing impacts of intergenerational trauma and as such, we acknowledge that future generations have a right to know the content of these documents. The Coalition wishes to preserve these documents while honouring individuals’ rights to privacy.
I personally support the Coalition for Truth.
What has been tricky for me is trying to describe what this support means. So, I thought it would be useful to try to articulate (at least for myself) what it means for a non-Indigenous Canadian law professor to #StandForTruth in case like this. This is particularly so when I know that Indigenous colleagues and friends are significantly torn over the case, and may be lining up on both sides (for retention and for destruction. (You can see the Affidavit of Carey Newman here Affidavit #1 of Carey Newman, or view the Coalition’s funding campaign on the gofundme here).
In this case, at the heart of things, my support of the intervention of the Coalition to Preserve Truth is linked to their attempt to change the story that is being told about this case. Canadian law sees this as a story of privacy and confidentiality. It that the story that best describes the situation here? A story about the need to honour individual choice? A story about the protection of individual interests in privacy and confidentiality?
Those are, of course, important values, ones that have often been denied to Indigenous people in Canada (and certainly denied in the context of residential schools). And yet….The Coalition to Preserve Truth raises important questions about people in relation, and relationships to both the past and the future, particularly in the context of times of trauma and injury. Should the records related to residential school survivors be kept or destroyed? What are the relationships of the individual to the collective? To the past? To the future? The Coalition’s intervention, with its focus on intergenerational connections, invites us to understand that the case should not be decided in the absence of Indigenous Laws.
To put it bluntly, Canada has a long history of making decisions about Indigenous, Metis and Inuit peoples rather than with Indigenous, Metis and Inuit peoples. Will this case be similar?
That is, what matters here is not only the ‘outcome’ [destroy or keep the records], but also the ‘process’. It matters that there is space for Indigenous Laws to be enacted here. Or maybe flipped, it is very problematic that there has NOT been space for Indigenous Laws (and by that, I am including substance, process, protocol, ceremony and more) to be applied here.
I think that is why the intergenerational point the Coalition is making is so important. It is a question of Law. During the Independent Assessment Process, former residential school survivors shared stories of the ways that they had suffered harm that was both individual and collective. We already know that those stories we gathered and collected in ‘non-optimal’ ways. That is, they were not gathered in ways that would have better followed the laws (both substantive and procedural) governing the people whose stories were shared (be that Salish, Cree, Migmaw, Inuit, Metis, etc). They also were not gathered in ways that followed Canadian law (ie. by having explicit consent forms providing choice to witnesses).
And so we are now in a position where the Canadian legal system is positioned to decide how to best deal with yet another harm experienced by both the people who shared their stories, and by the families and legal orders to which those people belong. And it will decide it in the legal lingua franca of ‘jurisdiction, privacy, and access to information’.
As the case is set out, the solution is one which is flawed in so many ways. I get why people feel sick at the notion that, in the context of this history of genocide, the records that were created (the testimony that was witnessed) would be destroyed. I also get why other people feel sick at the notion that their words and memories will be permanently kept by the very government that made possible the very harms they suffered. The choice — Keep or Destroy — is a false and cruel one. (i.e., would you prefer I cut off your right arm or your left arm?) Framed in this way, the choice is one that (like the residential schools themselves) splits generations from each other, as people are required to consider which two untenable options will do less harm in the future.
And I acknowledge the (settler) desire I feel to keep quiet, rather than risk choosing ‘the wrong side’ in this struggle, or interfere in something that is not ‘my business’. But the history of residential schools IS my business. It is all our our business. And I can’t help but think that it is not OK for settlers to stand on the side in silence, as if we can best support and respect indigenous peoples by letting them fight it out (in the corner Canadian law and history has forced them into).
There is no easy solution here. But it is problematic to proceed as if Indigenous Laws are irrelevant, as if Indigenous Legal Orders do not have resources, as if Indigenous Communities are not deeply invested in how the memories of their peoples are held and kept and treated. It is also problematic to proceed as if survivor voices don’t matter (in either direction… destroying the voices of those no longer able to give consent, or denying the express wishes of some for destruction of their testimony, or denying that the entire process as created conditions of unsafety and new trauma for people)
It matters not just WHAT the Court does here. It matters also HOW the Court does it.
Indigenous peoples, in different communities, have resources for such moments, resources that are rich, and textured, and full of space to hold differences of opinion.
How do ‘we’ (people in the legal community) take up our TRC reconciliation obligations under Calls to Action #27, #28, and #50 to teach Indigenous Laws? How might we think about our obligations to Indigenous Peoples, and that includes obligations to take into account their own laws and own ways of resolving conflicts like these?
How does Canada enact its own obligations to deal respectfully, its own obligations to acknowledge the harm it has done, its own obligations to learn more about how it too needs to act in ways that respect its connections to the past and the future. Can the Supreme Court, at this moment, see the obligations that govern it? Obligations that may involve principles not only of Canadian law, but also of Indigenous Laws?
What I find powerful about the The Coalition for the Preservation of Truth, with its reminders about intergenerational connections, is its invitation for us to take law seriously. It invites us to understand that we (indigenous and settler people) are both a part of this story. It invites us to take seriously how we think about shared memory, and a shared past. It invites us to ask what it might mean to ACTUALLY honour the testimony of those who spoke their truth at the IAP hearings. Preserving Truth invites us to change the story we are telling about this case.
It invites us to imagine that it may be possible to simply stop for a moment. What ever happens in the Court room, is it possible for the rest of us to make space for the questions to be reframed? It is possible to acknowledge that Indigenous law must be part of the decision-making? What might the case look like were the courtroom to be populated with Indigenous peoples bringing principles of Indigenous law to bear in order to find solutions that truly honour the spirit of reconciliation? What might the case look like if our law schools were populated with Indigenous colleagues doing the work of Indigenous (and non-indigenous) law? (see Zoe Todd’s latest blog)
Of course, it is hard to talk about this without getting personal (or being personal?) Easy to blame the system. I am left wondering really about what it might mean for me (in my own classroom, in my own home, in my own interactions with others, in this blogpost?!) to begin to to talk about the ways that I too, living in unceded Coast Salish territories, might have legal obligations to learn the laws of this place, and to make good on my own legal obligations to the past and the future (and indeed to the present). What might it mean, anyways, for me to “Stand For Truth”, or “Stand In Truth” or “Stand With Truth”?
OK. Rant over for now. My hands up to my many Indigenous, Metis, and Inuit friends who bear the heavy weight of this case, which is re-traumatizing to people on so many levels.