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Reflection on Renewal, the 35th Indigenous Bar Association Conference

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

Tansi Ninôtemik,

The Indigenous Bar Association (“IBA”) is a federal non-profit organization made up of Indigenous legal professionals.[1]

The IBA aims to promote legal and social justice for Indigenous people, and to advocate for policy and law reform affecting Indigenous people. Members of the IBA raise public awareness in the legal, Indigenous and general population about legal and social issues relevant to Indigenous people.

The IBA, equipped with substantial knowledge, a visionary outlook, and a collective responsibility, safeguards and promotes Indigenous legal traditions for the benefit of our ancestors and all future generations.

This year at the 35th annual fall conference, the IBA’s theme was renewal- building capacity for a multi-juridical future.[2]

Building and Deepening Relationships with Ceremony (Bex)

Attending the IBA left me feeling empowered and inspired by my fellow colleagues from across Turtle Island who are revitalizing and advocating for our rights. The most impactful session for me was student day, where we discussed commonalities and differences in our law school experiences. We emphasized the importance of understanding others’ lived realities and acknowledged each others’ efforts to shape Indigenous spaces within our schools.

Interacting with these remarkable students had me reflecting on what else I could be doing in my life and at my school. Reconnecting with old friends and engaging with leading Indigenous leaders in the field was a surreal experience.

I found myself getting choked up thinking about all of the amazing work being done, and the privileged position I am in to be able to access this information. Being here makes me think about my family, my community, and all of those who could have benefited from this feeling of support, abundance of information, and the revitalization of Indigenous laws.

I am immensely grateful for the build-up of good memories and feelings of solidarity that I gained going through this experience with my peers, which I can keep in my back pocket during times of stress and doubt throughout the year.

Where else can you share a hotdog between 8 people ceremony style?

Respect & Recognition (Megan)

Attending the 35th IBA Conference was a profound and enriching experience. Highly qualified speakers delivering high quality sessions signals that the conference was an incredible success. The opening plenary session featured the inside scoop from Jean Teillet; Teillet represented Steve Powley in the groundbreaking Powley case which showed that the Metis nation is entitled to Aboriginal rights.

However, the IBA conference is so much more than just the information contained in its sessions. It was these other aspects that really gave the conference profound meaning for me. Attending the IBA conference is being immersed in community. I had the opportunity to attend amongst a larger group of classmates and colleagues and the bonds we formed and strengthened between us grew so much stronger over the days we spent at Rama. I also had the opportunity to connect with law students and lawyers from across Turtle Island. And even with people I had not been introduced to or did not know, the sense of belonging and comradery that permeated the conference remained strong.

One moment that highlighted this sense of community and was immensely moving was the presentation of the Indigenous Peoples’ Council (IPC) recipient. This designation is presented by the Indigenous Bar Association to one Indigenous lawyer each year for their outstanding achievements in the practice of law and, in particular, the way that person has pursued the goals of the IBA and served their community with honour and integrity. [3] This year’s recipient was Judge Gerald Morin, a retired judge and creator of Saskatechewan’s Cree Court.

While seeing a deserving individual receive recognition is often moving, the blanketing ceremony that accompanied the award was exceptionally powerful to watch. Judge Morin stood facing the crowd, a look of profound emotion on his face, while the previous recipients draped a blanket over his shoulders and stood around him, all while a group of young singers and drummers performed an honour song for him. As I stood, gazing upon a man who has done so much for his people, surrounded and supported by those who have led the way, the sounds of the singers in my ears and the beat of the drum resonating in my chest, I knew I was part of something bigger: the shifting of legal orders within what is now called Canada.

The Strength of Kindness, Respect and Respecting Difference (Michael)

Attending the IBA conference was amazing! Students attending the conference accessed made-for-students programming on the land at Rama First Nation. This is where we started building relationships with students from other schools. It felt empowering to connect with students who will be future leaders in the advancement of Indigenous justice.

The student day programming invited students to reflect on the role of art in Indigenous legal revitalization. Facilitated by Osgoode Hall Law professor Jeff Hewitt and the amazing artist Chief Lady Bird, students participated in discussions about how Anishinaabe legal principles can be discerned by engaging with Anishinaabe art.

Chief Lady Bird gave students three photography assignments to complete while walking on the land. While out walking, we were given discussion prompts about revitalizing Indigenous legal orders. The students who I worked with all agreed on some of the problems and challenges, and each of us had a slightly different idea of how to go about addressing them. The texture that results from a plurality of approaches signals a strong future for Indigenous legal revitalization.

The strength in different approaches among legal legends of today was jaw-dropping. One example was in a presentation by Mark Smith [4] and Mark Stevenson (IPC) [5]. The subject was about how First Nations courts and enforcement mechanisms could take place under Modern Treaty Agreements nearing finalization.[6]

Smith explained that enforcement is more challenging than codifying Indigenous laws and establishing Indigenous Courts to interpret and apply them: “the RCMP will not enforce because the Crown will not prosecute and the Crown will not prosecute because the RCMP will not enforce.” In spite of these frustrating challenges, he urged that his approach was one of partnership with the Crown.

One solution reached in negotiations was to establish an Indigenous-led enforcement agency in parallel with Indigenous courts. Indigenous enforcement officers would be empowered to enforce codified Indigenous laws with the same rights and liabilities as peace officers.They would carry the same weapons. And once an Indigenous court order is filed, they would be empowered to enforce with the same mechanisms available to provincial court orders.

Once the presentation concluded, Naiomi Metallic [7] spoke powerfully about another solution. The problems of non-enforcement of Indigenous law by the RCMP and non-prosecution by the Crown reduces community safety. This problem, Metallic said, can also be viewed through a human rights lens.

Everyone was smiling during this discussion. Warmth and mutual respect are necessary in all legal stems. They are necessary to advance justice for Indigenous people. After spending so long immersed in adversarial approaches where civility easily breaks down, my time at the Indigenous Bar Association conference was a refreshing reminder that there is another way.

That concludes the reflections from Bex, Megan and Michael about their attendance at the IBA. We hope you enjoyed reading.

The ReconciliAction YEG Team

  1. “About” online: Indigenous Bar Association <> [IBA About].

  2. Indigenous Bar Association, “Draft Agenda” (2023 at 1), online (pdf): Squarespace <>.

  3. IBA About, supra note 1.

  4. Mark Smith is General Counsel and Director of Process, B.C. Treaty Commission

  5. Mark Stevenson (IPC) is a Métis lawyer connected to Lac St. Anne and is at Aboriginal Law. You can learn more about him here <>

  6. K’ómoks First Nation, Government of Canada “ K’ómoks Agreement-in-Principle” (2012), online (pdf) < 09/Komoks_AIP_and_Appendices_0.pdf>

  7. Naiomi Metallic is a Mi’gmaq lawyer and law professor at Dalhousie Uniersity.

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