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.

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