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Making the Grade: Legal Education

UofA law students participate in land based learning in May 2022 on Huu-ay-aht Territory.

Tansi Nîtôtemtik,

Back in January, the ReconciACTION team gave the response to Call to Action #28 a failing grade and provided recommendations on how the legal community can improve their response. At the time, the team looked at how many law schools across Canada had implemented mandatory Indigenous-focused courses and gave the response to Call to Action #28 a failing grade.

This week, our writers have explored the implementation of Calls to Action #27 & 28. We explored the efforts by the provincial Law Societies such as requiring mandatory cultural competency training and educational opportunities. We spent a couple of days reviewing how the responses by law schools across Canada on implementing mandatory education varies. We took time to explore some of the benefits and risks associated with cultural exercises and mandatory courses. Lastly, we applauded the development of outstanding programs such as the Joint Degree in Canadian Common Law and Indigenous Legal Orders (JID) at the University of Victoria. All of these are great first steps towards achieving Calls to Action #27 & 28.

But our work is far from done. The Canadian legal system, and the people within it, are powerful. Law schools are moulding the minds of tomorrow- we will become the future political leaders, legislators, advisors, community advocates and Supreme Court Justices. What we learn today as students will impact how we argue our cases, write our decisions, and ultimately shape the future of Canada. If we want to see real and lasting changes to issues such as the high rates of Indigenous incarceration and the prejudicial child welfare system, we have to foster a legal profession with a “better understanding of [Indigenous] traditional laws and how they will interact with communities and developments in the future.”[1] It is simply not enough to require one course. We can not change assumptions about law and equity without recognizing how the court system “has become a barrier to justice, rather than a critical tool in the pursuit of truth” and how our profession has to be a leader in reconciliation.[2] This level of recognition can not happen without difficult, uncomfortable conversations- conversations that require more than a basic understanding. Such discourse can only evolve through a deeper, and more engaged understanding.

We still have a lot of work to do before we can say that the TRC Calls to Action #27 & 28 have officially been achieved. That is why, today, our report card grade is a B-. We give this grade because while there are some achievements of Call to Action #27 & 28, there are numerous weaknesses and the needed improvement areas are obvious. The response to legal education could easily be improved by following the lead of law faculties at the University of Victoria and Ottawa through the creation of legal education programs that recognize and appreciate Canada’s multiple legal systems and includes Indigenous laws and legal orders. Overall, the response to Calls to Action 27 & 28 are a work in progress but with a little hard work, dedication, creative thinking and time, the legal profession still has the chance to help lead Canada’s reconciliation efforts.

Until next time,

Team ReconciliAction

[1] Teresa Wright, Sen. Murray Sinclair joins legal firm to mentor in Indigenous law (3 August 2020), online: CBC News <>. [2] Zena Olinjk, Recognition of Indigenous legal systems crucial to reconciliation, delegates to conference told (18 Nov 2021) online: Canadian Lawyer Magazine <>.

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