Law Matters | Fall 2017

 

 

I would like to begin this introduction by acknowledging that I write from the position of a settler with mixed Trinidadian/Canadian descent living in Ottawa, on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin nation. I say this to recognize that, while I am introducing a publication discussing Indigenous issues, I am not Indigenous; portions of my ancestry are linked to historical and ongoing abuses of Indigenous Peoples; my understanding of Indigenous issues is limited by my lack of personal experience as an Indigenous person; and I currently live on unceded Algonquin territory (itself, a manifestation of ongoing exploitation of Indigenous Peoples). Still, my privileged subject position should not prevent me (or any of us, for that matter) from promoting progressive discourse on critical issues in Canadian society. Indeed, we must use our privilege to amplify marginalized voices within Canadian discourse. With that in mind, I am thrilled with the outstanding Indigenous contributors we have in this edition of Law Matters, and I am honoured — as the incoming Editor of Law Matters — to author the introduction to this edition focussing on Truth and Reconciliation.

Truth and Reconciliation is a process. Knowing the truth of how Canada’s residential school system abused Indigenous communities is a precursor to the process of reconciling that horrific legacy with a future vision of Canada built on mutual respect. This process is ongoing, and one we must all take part in. Whether its protests during the “Canada 150” celebrations, the overincarceration of Indigenous Peoples in the Canadian criminal justice system, or the ongoing crises of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and lack of drinking water on Indigenous reserves, a long road lies ahead in Canada’s path towards reconciliation.

While by no means exhaustive, this edition of Law Matters exposes the reader to some important aspects of Truth and Reconciliation.

For example, Chief Wilton Littlechild, QC — a commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission — describes hearing from Residential School survivors about their lived experiences. His account is an excellent introduction to the Truth and Reconciliation process in Canada. And it includes a recommendation for where readers should turn next: reading the 94 Calls to Action, identifying those that resonate with them, and taking part in the process of reconciliation. The Calls to Action can be found online here.

Koren Lightning-Earle — the Indigenous Initiative Liaison at the Law Society of Alberta — describes the Law Society’s response to the Calls to Action. She notes how reconciliation requires everyone’s participation, including those providing legal services to Indigenous communities (a point also noted by Kendall Moholitny, who discusses access to justice concerns for Indigenous communities, and how providing pro bono legal services to those communities is a further means of reconciliation). Areezah Jiwa and Bernadette McMechan’s summary of recent University of Alberta Faculty of Law initiatives geared towards reconciliation in the law school setting is yet another step in the right direction.

Rob Harvie, QC — a non-Indigenous lawyer — describes how his upbringing in Southern Alberta exposed him to woefully inadequate education about Canada’s historical abuses of Indigenous Peoples (a point I can echo in my own experience growing up in Alberta). He notes how he was more familiar with the U.S. Civil War then the atrocities committed by his own government against Indigenous communities. He also describes his experience chairing a discipline committee in respect of David Blott, who was disbarred for exploiting Indigenous communities for profit in their residential school settlement claims; yet further proof of the ongoing abuses against Indigenous communities.

These are just some of the pieces included in this edition of Law Matters. I urge you to review them, mindful of how you, too, can further reconciliation. But remember, truth and reconciliation is a two-step process. The truth of our historical and ongoing abuses of Indigenous communities must first be understood before that past can be reconciled with our future. For that reason, I urge you to also review the Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada; it can be found online here. It is long, but that length reflects the even longer history of Canada’s abuses against Indigenous communities. Only by confronting these truths, can reconciliation be pursued in an informed manner, sensitive to the history of abuses motivating that reconciliation.

Please read this edition of Law Matters, and then, more importantly, take action!

Joshua Sealy-Harrington
October 16, 2017

DOWNLOAD ISSUE IN PDF FORMAT