A few days ago, I participated in the Kawaskimhon Moot, which was held in Victoria this year. Students and coaches from universities all across the country travelled to take part in the moot, along with other supporters, speakers, and facilitators.
The Kawaskimhon Moot is different from most other moots law students participate in. It's a consensus-based negotiation rather than an adversarial court process, and the main goal is for all teams at the table to reach an agreement. It’s not about one team beating the other, or declaring a winner and a loser. The Kawaskimhon Moot is also different because it is the Indigenous moot. Teams are meant to work with Indigenous law and Indigenous legal traditions, in addition to Canadian colonial law. The moot problem is created to reflect this, and students may be assigned to represent parties such as Indigenous nations or Indigenous administrative bodies.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when we arrived in Victoria. I was excited and nervous. I was hopeful that teams from every school would approach the negotiations from the starting point that Indigenous law is legitimate and valuable, has been in existence since time immemorial, and can and should be used alongside Canadian colonial law.
This was not always the case.
It was disheartening and emotionally draining to see that not all teams respected the legitimacy of Indigenous law, or the knowledge of everyone at the table. It was a harsh reminder that we have a long, long way to go when it comes to reconciliation, and even just respect for Indigenous legal systems.
I did not expect how intense some of the negotiations would get, how emotional it would be, or how easy it would be for students to slip out of the position and mindset of being a party’s representative counsel to the position and mindset of someone negotiating personally on their own behalf.
There was a lot of back and forth between teams. It seemed like each team was desperate to get their point across, to say their piece, and to be heard. It became an issue when both teams in dispute were focused only on being heard, and not on listening to one another. When this type of issue would arise, negotiations would come to a halt, no progress would be made, and each team would seem to double-down on their position and forget that flexibility and compromise can be valuable, and even necessary, in a negotiation. It became less of a negotiation, and more of a team versus team, with no give and take, and many miscommunications.
After the negotiations had come to an end, the chancellor of the University of Victoria, Marion Buller, spoke to us and touched on this very issue. She spoke of the teaching that says we have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen twice as much as we speak. Her speech hit home, and highlighted the importance of listening to understand, rather than listening to respond; or not really listening at all, and instead just waiting for a turn to speak again.
While the moot brought forth challenges and emotions I had not expected, it was also an amazing learning experience, and many relationships were formed and strengthened during the event. It was great to see tables reach agreements, utilize Indigenous law, and think creatively to develop solutions that wouldn’t be seen in an adversarial process, where outcomes are more limited.
Despite the surprises, disappointments, and challenges, it was an amazing opportunity. I’m grateful that I was able to attend the moot, be welcomed into the territory, and have the chance to meet new people and build relationships. I am even more appreciative now of how supportive, uplifting, and inspiring my colleagues are, and excited to continue learning from and alongside them.
The things I learned will help me grow as a person and as an advocate. I’m hopeful that those who attended will reflect on both the successes and failures of the moot, and on what they can do to advance reconciliation and respect moving forward. To any fellow students considering participating in the Kawaskimhon Moot in the coming years, I do highly recommend it, and hope you won't let the challenges of the experience deter you.
Reconciliation is an ongoing path, and can be challenging and frustrating, but it's vital that we never give up in our efforts, and that we find strength in our relationships with one another.
Until next time,
Team Reconcili-ACTION YEG