• reconciliactionyeg

Why should lawyers be involved in reconciliation?

Tansi Nîtôtemtik,


Before we get into Call to Action #27, I want to share a story that happened about a year ago. My husband and I were invited to have dinner at our friend’s house. One spouse is a fantastic cook, so I naturally accept. As we finished dinner, the topic of the mandated PATH program came up as the other spouse is a recently graduated lawyer. They were upset at the fact that the Law Society was mandating an Indigenous cultural competency program for all active practicing lawyers in Alberta. Our friend mentioned that they were contemplating making a constitutional challenge to the Law Society’s mandate.


At this point, I am wondering why someone would put more time and effort into challenging what has now become required of the legal profession instead of learning about the history of this country from an Indigenous perspective. I was thoroughly disappointed in our friend for seeing this opportunity as a waste of their time. Instead of making a quick exit, I tried to discover why and how this perspective was initiated. In trying to discover what their current knowledge was on the topic, we got into talking about the Métis culture. According to my friend, the Métis culture was not a true culture but just a mix of First Nations and French. They even told me that I could probably find some French in their family somewhere down the line. It dawned on me at that moment that they did not know they were talking to a Métis woman.


Photo Credit: Andrea Lipuscek. Taken outside Father Michael Mireau School Edmonton Catholic School on September 29th

Call to Action #27 calls “upon the Federation of Law Societies of Canada to ensure that lawyers receive appropriate cultural competency training, which includes the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal-Crown relations. This requires skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.” [1]


The Path is a mandatory educational requirement that began in April 2021. Practicing lawyers in Alberta have 18 months to complete the free Indigenous Cultural Competency Education or they face an administrative suspension. [2] The deadline is fast approaching. The program teaches about the historical differences between our Indigenous peoples, the evolution of the relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples, stories of reconciliation and resilience, and understanding intercultural communication in the workplace. [3]


The real focus of this post is on why this intercultural education is important for lawyers, even the lawyers who may never deal with Indigenous clients. The impact of Canada’s legal system on Indigenous peoples has been destructive. Historically, they have been denied the right to vote, the right to legal counsel, the right to leave the reserve, the right to become a lawyer without losing their status, the right to speak their language, and the right to raise their children according to their own customs. [4] The relationship between Indigenous peoples and the legal system needs healing. I cannot think of a better place to start than with lawyers.


Micheal McDonald is a lawyer from Peguis First Nation Manitoba. He is a member of the British Columbia Law Society’s Truth and Reconciliation commission who helped to create the cultural competency program in BC. Michael believes that to achieve reconciliation, you need to start with the truth. [5] The program is not about shaming anyone, it is about learning how we ended up here. It’s about learning our history from an Indigenous perspective. Giving Indigenous peoples a platform to share their truths is a healing experience.


Historically, Indigenous peoples have not had a voice in this country. As lawyers and future lawyers, we are the advocates that have an influential voice to create powerful change and we need to use it. Not because it is mandated, but because it’s the right thing to do. Now is the time to listen, learn, and share. For the Provinces and Territories that haven’t created a cultural competency education yet, now is your time to answer the Call to Action #27. [6] For all those that have taken cultural competency education, I hope that you can now appreciate that I am not half of anything. I am Métis.


Until next time,

Team ReconciliAction YEG


[1] Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada “Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action” (last visited 2 October 2022), online: University of Toronto Libraries <https://exhibits.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/2420#:~:text=Citation,%2Fitems%2Fshow%2F2420>.

[2] Law Society of Alberta, “Indigenous Cultural Competency Education” (last visited 1 October 2022), online: Law Society of Alberta <https://www.lawsociety.ab.ca/lawyers-and-students/continuing-professional-development/indigenous-cultural-competency-education/>.

[3] Ibid.

[4] JFK Law LLP, “Cultural competency, the Aboriginal perspective and honouring Indigenous voices” (15 January 2020), online (blog): JFK Law LLP <https://jfklaw.ca/cultural-competency-the-aboriginal-perspective-and-honouring-indigenous-voices/>.

[5] Brad Regehr, “Conversation on Call to Action 27 - Cultural Competency Training” (last visited 1 October 2022), online: The Canadian Bar Association

<https://www.cba.org/Podcast/Transcripts/Conversations-on-Call-to-Action-27-Cultural-Compet>.

.

[6] Indigenous Watchdog, “Call to Action #27” (9 November 2020), online: Indigenous Watchdog

<https://www.indigenouswatchdog.org/cta/call-to-action-27/>.

311 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All