Reconciliation and Lawyers
LAW 693
University of Calgary, Faculty of Law

Instructor: Andrea Menard, LLB LLM

Course Outline:

In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) released its final report, highlighting the experiences and impacts of the residential school system in Canada and providing recommendations for how to move forward and promote reconciliation.

The TRC issued 94 Calls to Action, many of which have direct impacts on law societies, law schools, lawyers, and law students.

Call to Action #27 and Call to Action #28 demand that the legal community in Canada receive appropriate cultural competency training, including 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. They also require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.

In this course, students will have the opportunity to delve deeply into the meaning and significance of truth and reconciliation, as well as explore its relevance to contemporary legal practice. Truth and reconciliation are fundamental concepts in the context of Indigenous rights and the history of colonization and residential schools in Canada.

Truth refers to acknowledging the experiences of Indigenous peoples in Canada, including the historical and ongoing impacts of colonization, residential schools, and the forced removal of Indigenous children from their families. It involves the recognition of the truth of Indigenous experiences and the need for non-Indigenous people to understand and acknowledge the truth of these experiences. Reconciliation, on the other hand, involves the restoration of relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. This can involve a range of measures, including restitution, compensation, and the rebuilding of Indigenous communities and cultures. Reconciliation is seen as an ongoing process of addressing the harms caused by colonialism and working towards a more just and equitable society. The significance of truth and reconciliation lies in the fact that they offer a framework for addressing the injustices and ongoing impacts of colonization in Canada. By acknowledging and addressing the truth of Indigenous experiences and working towards reconciliation, it is possible to build capacity and competency in the legal profession, starting with this course.

In the context of legal practice, understanding the meaning and significance of truth and reconciliation is critical for working effectively with Indigenous clients and communities, as well as for advocating for Indigenous rights and sovereignty. By engaging with these concepts, students will develop a deeper understanding of the complex and multi-faceted historical and contemporary issues facing Indigenous peoples in Canada and how they can work towards meaningful change. To facilitate this process, the course will use a variety of pedagogical approaches to create a supportive and engaging learning environment.

These approaches will consider the cultural, social, and political contexts in which learning takes place, and aim to promote critical thinking, creativity, and a sense of social responsibility. The course will include small group discussions, Indigenous sharing circles, guest speakers, elder teachings, lectures, reflection papers, in-class case studies, anti-colonial projects, and role plays. These activities will provide students with a deeper examination of the shortcomings of past reconciliation approaches and how "performative actions" by "well-meaning" allies can cause more harm than good.

Throughout the course, a trauma-informed and reflective approach will be practiced.

In addition to the topics already mentioned, the course will cover a range of other important issues, including how to advocate for Indigenous laws and integrate them into daily academic and legal practice, how to establish effective communication and build relationships utilizing reciprocity, relationality, and respect, how to identify systemic/structural bias in personal and future professional life and explore how Indigenization/decolonization can overcome these challenges, the meaning and significance of truth and reconciliation, and identifying and overcoming "performative allyship".

The course's learning objectives are focused on identifying and navigating systemic and structural challenges in current Western common law systems that exclude Indigenous laws. The goal is for students to develop a foundational understanding of decolonization and Indigenization and how it can bring about positive change in society and in the legal system they will be a part of soon.

In conclusion, this course offers a comprehensive approach to understanding the complex and multi-faceted issues surrounding Indigenous rights, decolonization, and reconciliation in Canada. By examining the meaning and significance of truth and reconciliation, students will gain a deeper understanding of the ongoing impacts of colonialism and the role that the legal profession can play in promoting justice and equity for Indigenous peoples. Through a range of pedagogical approaches, students will be equipped with the knowledge, skills, and competencies needed to navigate systemic and structural challenges in the legal system and bring about positive change. With a focus on cultural competency, critical thinking, and social responsibility, this course will prepare students to become effective and ethical legal professionals who are capable of promoting reconciliation and upholding the rights of Indigenous peoples in Canada.