Law Society of Alberta Responds to Truth & Reconciliation Calls to Action

The Law Society of Alberta (LSA) is committed to responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action. Koren Lightning-Earle joined the Law Society of Alberta in late June, 2017 as Indigenous Initiative Liaison (IIL).  Since that time, she has been developing a work plan and strategies for the LSA to respond to the TRC calls to action. This work plan includes internal strategies directed at Law Society staff and Benchers as well as external strategies aimed at both indigenous lawyers in Alberta and Alberta lawyers generally.  The strategies have been well received by the LSA benchers and the LSA staff.

The LSA acknowledges that it must lead by example. The LSA President began the Benchers meeting on September 28, 2017 in Calgary, Alberta by acknowledging the Treaty 7 territory and the traditional territory of the Niitsitapi (Blackfoot), Nakoda (Stoney), and Tsuut'ina.  The acknowledgement of the land is of great importance to Indigenous Peoples.  It was also the first time a report on Indigenous Initiatives was given to the Benchers.

On September 29, 2017 the LSA staff took part in “Orange Shirt Day” in recognition of the harm caused by the residential school system to Indigenous children. The story of Phyllis Webster and the meaning behind “Orange Shirt Day” was shared with all the staff.

All Law Society Staff have been invited to participate in the Kairos Blanket Exercise on October 30, 2017.  It will be facilitated by Koren Lightning-Earle, Indigenous Initiatives Liaison and Hadley Friedland, University of Alberta Faculty of Law Professor.  There will be a team of Indigenous facilitators brought in for this initiative  to help specifically with the debrief circles. The purpose of the Blanket Exercise is to get all staff involved in the reconciliation process.  This activity allows people to be physically and emotionally moved and to learn about the history of Indigenous Peoples in an experiential and safe environment.

Reconciliation requires all parties to be involved.  The LSA supports the work of the ILL and believes it is of utmost importance. In collaboration with the Communications team, Indigenous Initiatives is developing an internal Blog for staff.  It will include resources, daily acts of reconciliation, a question and answer section, resources and blog posts by the Indigenous Initiatives Liaison.

In the spirit of building relationships, the LSA is committed to building relationships with Indigenous lawyers and students. We want to ask important questions such as what services do we provide to Indigenous lawyers and how can we improve to be a more inclusive organization? The goal is to ensure that  current Indigenous lawyers and future Indigenous lawyers know they have a place at the Law Society and that they belong as part of the legal profession.

To support this work, in person  meetings are currently being planned with all Indigenous lawyers in Calgary and Edmonton.  The objective of these meetings will be to provide an update on the work of the Law Society and to discuss ways in which the LSA can provide more supports to Indigenous lawyers. In addition, the IIL is working on developing relationships with new Indigenous lawyers and looking for ways to support new calls.   For example, seeking new ways to incorporate Indigenous Culture into the call to the bar ceremony.

Finally, the IIL is developing relationships with other key stakeholders including both Alberta Law Schools. The IIL will be collaborating with the U of A and U of C Career Services offices on how to provide better supports for future lawyers.  This includes support and revaluation of the Indigenous Summer Student Program.

A vital element of the LSA’s response to the TRC calls to action will be education.  A number of initiatives are already underway in this area.  This includes the development of a Cultural Awareness Training Module for the Law Society Adjudicators and development of Cultural Awareness Training for recruitment staff at Edmonton and Calgary Law Firms who participate in the Indigenous Summer Student Program.

Also, an Internal Education Program at the Law Society will take place, including the creation of a similar program that would become part of the Law Society New Staff Orientation Program.

Ultimately, the goal will be to create a larger education program for all Law Society Members offered by the Law Society.  This will be developed over the next year.

Koren Lightning-Earl is the Indigenous Initiatives Liaison at the Law Society of Alberta. She is also the President of the Indigenous Bar Association, and is a recent recipient of the Alumni Horizon Award from the University of Alberta. Koren is also a sessional instructor at Maskwacis Cultural College.