You had more than enough time to get on this reconciliation journey: on “indigeniz[ing]” law school curriculum

So here is an interesting article with Justice Murray Sinclair. His key point: we need to be teaching Indigenous law at law school. Well, that makes obvious sense. I mean, if we are going to be learning about legal traditions within Canada, then why can’t we learn about Indigenous law? I can tell you that at my school, the only time I came across any hint of Indigenous law being taught in a class was in my torts class. The professor didn’t have to teach us about Indigenous legal traditions/law in torts, because how and why does that even relate to tort law? I could have taken an Aboriginal legal traditions or Aboriginal law course (which at one point, I have to). However, I strongly resist the urge to take any Aboriginal specific course because that is what is expected of me or people assume I will take such a course just because I am Indigenous. This same expectation, though, isn’t assumed or expected of my non-Aboriginal peers. Funny that.

I also don’t agree with creating “streams” of courses for Indigenous law. Indigenous law can be taught in basically any law school classroom. It just depends on who the school hires as professors. My tort law professor was an Indigenous professor. I didn’t learn about Indigenous law in any of my other classes. Not even criminal law. Not even in my legal history class (and to that point, we only read texts by white authors in my legal history class…I was not impressed).

And most recently? I had another professor tell my class that Canada has two legal systems. I was absolutely floored. At the time, it really bothered me. In fact, it still bothers me… the entire process that followed brothers me, specifically.

I made an appointment with this professor and I talked to him about his comments in class. He back tracked. I left feeling unheard, not listened too. So, I went to another person on campus to discuss these comments. This person then emailed another person who then told me to go back and meet with this professor with someone else present. So, then I approached another person to ask if they could help facilitate this. They did. I am thankful for their help. After missing over two classes, spending time in over 5 meetings, conversing with several people and sending multiple emails, we had this meeting. Again, I was not impressed.

In this meeting, I basically repeated what I said in the initial meeting, three weeks before this final meeting. Now, imagine if I had been heard the first time: hey, there are more than two legal systems in Canada and it is important to acknowledge the other ones too. We would be done. But no. Instead, I was left running around, trying to figure out who to talk to, who I could trust and repeat everything that happened to multiple people. Also, the way “mediation” or “conflict resolution” happens is clearly not the way to resolve these institutional issues. I imagine community conversations taking place, where multiple perspectives can be heard, respected, valued and validated instead of pushed into the back corners of the institution. Solving these issues behind closed doors is a form of silencing, “Shhhhh, don’t cause too much ruckus. It isn’t good for the institution.”

All of the above is institutional discrimination.

If these institutions also want to help out the Indigenous students, they should also be prepared to do the work. The work to fix the institutional problems should not be left on the backs of Indigenous students. We already have enough bullshit to deal with in our daily lives. It’s almost as if these institutions assume we enjoy meeting and discussing the issues. Maybe some do. I don’t. It’s tiring, triggering and anxiety inducing.

I thought I wouldn’t have to deal with the same institutional bullshit I dealt with elementary school, high school, college AND undergrad. But nope, the institutional BS that takes up the majority of racialized, Indigenous, and other similar groups’ time…it’s all still there.

At the end of the final meeting, I was asked what the group in the meeting could do to help the issue. I said, “I’ve done enough work.” Then, I was asked what the professors could do to help the issue. I said, “That’s a conversation for the professors to have.” In other words, if you want to have my expertise and knowledge to help solve the institutional and systemic issues, then pay me. Is this a bold and new idea? No it isn’t. I was even told in that same meeting the school has money. Okay, so why are you wasting my time, asking for my expertise to help solve the problem. I sure hell would have been a lot happier if I had been paid for all the meetings I had to attend and all the people I had to talk about the issue. This leads me to my other point: if you want Indigenous students to help alleviate or solve these institutional problems, then pay them for their time, knowledge and expertise. We paid to get into law school to learn, not to teach. I also believe that law schools should be permitting Indigenous peoples from the nearby communities to sit in these Aboriginal law courses for FREE! From the words of an old mentor talking about prisons and their relations to residential schools, “it was an institution (residential schools) that took our culture away and it is an institution (criminal justice through restorative justice) that is trying to give it back.” The same words hold true for law schools: you can’t erase Indigenous legal traditions or Indigenous law and then expect to only make the same courses available to the small few who can afford to attend the courses. That’s not reconciliation.

In closing, I recommend everyone listen to the September 30, 2015 @RMLpodcast featuring Lee Maracle–you can listen to this show on the app or here. (also, download the app and pay the money to help keep RML going—you want to know how you can support Indigenous folks? Do that…pay them for their work). In the podcast, Lee Maracle talks about reconciliation within educational institutions, including law schools. She mentions how one Justice taught her own relative the law back at a time when Indigenous peoples like him were not allowed to enter law schools (or they had to give up their status to be admitted). This was in the 1920s. That was reconciliation then. Maracle also mentions reconciliation isn’t anything new. So, to all the law schools in Canada, you had more than enough time to get on this reconciliation journey.

Ps. Can MSM and others “stop” putting INDIGENIZE in “quotation” marks? Please. Stop.

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