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Level Justice within Secondary School Settings

Tansi Nîtôtemtik/Negha Dagondih,

Expansion of legal education, legal outreach, and accessibility to law. These are all fundamental objectives we should strive to provide as legal institutions, professionals, and academics. Unfortunately, many Indigenous youths, adults, and communities are still under-equipped when it comes to accessing, finding, and understanding the law. Level Justice is a charitable organization that has set one of its pillars upon making sure access to justice is not an academic barrier like attending law school can be, and not a financial barrier by making their programs free. Level Justice is able to offer programs across the country, and if your province/territory or city/town does not have a Level Justice program, creating connections to offer programming within schools and communities is just a call or email away!

One of Level Justice’s best known initiatives is the newly renamed (formerly "Dare to Dream") Indigenous Youth Outreach Program (IYOP), which focuses on education and mentorship to Indigenous youth ages 11-18.[1] The program is intended to have education sessions presented in classroom environments to middle school and high school students, with a focus on making sure the legal foundations and frameworks are taught using plain language that is understandable and not so confusing. What the IYOP program does so well is that there is also experiential learning, with mock trials, sentencing circles, and usually (when not in a pandemic) field trips to courts to see where justice systems operate, and to perform the mock trials after the learning sessions.[2] Further, the teachings not only focus on the colonial and Eurocentric legal system, but Indigenous legal traditions, laws, and practises; and Level Justice is working on creating a curriculum tailored to the Treaty territory and the Indigenous groups of whichever part of the land the students are situated on.

IYOP seeks to achieve the following objectives:

  • Engages First Nations, Métis and Inuit youth in fun and collaborative justice-based activities

  • Empowers youth to reach their full potential

  • Builds the confidence, critical thinking and leadership skills of youth

  • Promotes relationship development between youth and justice sector volunteers through storytelling and a two-way knowledge exchange

  • Celebrates Indigenous customs, practices and beliefs

  • Advances reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.[3]

Sadly, despite Indigenous youth making up only 8% of the youth population in Canada, Indigenous youth aged 12-17 represent 46% of admissions to correctional facilities.[4] Indigenous youth are one of the fastest-growing populations in Canada, yet the accessibility of the justice system and legal knowledge is not taught in many schools to a satisfactory and inclusive level, which can contribute to the feelings of hate and distaste for the legal system.

Call to action #66 states “We call upon the federal government to establish multi-year funding for community-based youth organizations to deliver programs on reconciliation, and establish

a national network to share information and best practices.”[5] Level Justice, and IYOP in particular, has been praised for its awareness of the inaccessibility of the justice system for Indigenous peoples, and of the lack of culturally appropriate education. By advancing reconciliation and reducing the gap between the justice realm and Indigenous communities, its praise has even been endorsed by former Senator Murray Sinclair.[6]

I have been fortunate enough to have worked with Level Justice and the IYOP program, and as an Indigenous law student it has given me a further passion and motivation to work towards youth education on the legal system, and to continue to be an advocate for our younger and rising generations. Since we were in the pandemic at the time, we had to offer the program online, but that worked out well since IYOP has an accessible digital curriculum we were able to couple with altered content for a high school in Edmonton, AB. After leading the program, I received a letter in the mail from several students that read: “Thank you for your knowledge & support!”, “Thank you for all you do!”, “hai-hai”, “Thank you for talking to our class!”, and “Thank you for sharing made me consider law school.”

It is the words of the youth and the impressions we leave on them that prove to me, and hopefully, to you, dear reader, that we should volunteer our time and privilege to positively impact Indigenous youth and their lives. Even if it only makes a difference for one, the difference is monumental.

Until next time,

Gavin and Team ReconciliAction YEG

[1] IYOP “Empowering Indigenous Youth Through Justice Education and Mentorship”, (2022) online: <> [IYOP]

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, “Calls to Action”, (2015) at 3, online (pdf): Government of B.C. <>

[6] IYOP, supra note 1.

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