Some “Business Associations” materials (LaRue meets Big River First Nation)

At the end of this post, such as it is, you will find a small gathering of resources from my Business Associations class at UVic. One of the challenges in the Business Associations context is how to teach in ways that connect to the broad context in which economic work is situated (ie. not only in corporate boardrooms, but also in small businesses, local cooperative movements, and community-innovations). Another of the challenges for all law schools at this point is how to develop teaching resources that engage with Indigenous law, and Indigenous legal orders. In this point, I offer a few materials at the intersection of these two questions in the context of “LaRue Investments” and “Big River First Nation v Agency Chiefs Tribal Council Inc“. 2020 SKQB 273.

Let me back up to say that, over the years, I have drawn on some of the challenges that have emerged in the context of the family-owned closely-held corporation (LaRue Investments Ltd) that is the owner of the Shuswap lands that have been such an important part of the growing up experience of so many in my extended family.

“The Lake” (as we call it) is at the centre of important identity-forming moments for so many of my siblings and cousins. It has also been at the centre of a series of family conflicts that have resulted in nearly 20 years of litigation, involving schisms between people. And so (given that much of the documentation is public), I have sometimes used moments of family history in the classroom, as a way of walking students through a ‘small-scale-but-story-rich’ case study to explore how the concepts we study in the statutory materials have application in many different locations. It is also a way of making visible that the phrase ‘business is business’, often hides another refrain, which is ‘business is personal’!

By this, I mean that an understanding of the affective and emotional dimensions of economic problems can be really important for solicitors. Indeed, it can be just as important as it is for lawyers doing family law, or wills and estates. But it can be a challenge figuring out how to “teach” emotion and affect in the context of the business associations classroom. Getting personal by using the family business has been one strategy.

For many years, I was also able to have the students think about how to work with a client by bringing my mother to class. She was the corporate memory for LaRue, and had worked with many different lawyers over the years. She was well positioned to talk to the students about challenges that had arisen, and about the things that she had done well, as well as about the mistakes that she had made. Quite a gift! One of the gifts was a mistake. Let’s call this mistake “Removing a Director from the Registry”. The short version would be this: Arta believed that one of the Directors was not eligible to be a Director, so she went and filled out the Notice of Change of Directors form and submitted it to the Corporate Registry. The questions raised by the mistake were:

  • What is the appropriate process for removing a director?
  • What was the legal effect of submitting a form saying a director had been removed?
  • Might this action be called “oppression”?
  • What remedy would fix the harm?

NOTE: There are many longer versions of this event (which happened in 2003). If you want to follow the longer story, you can check out the history section of the LaRue Investments Ltd website. You will find there a set of video interviews in which Arta talks about the longer versions of this story.

In the classroom, I give the students all the background on this saga. It allows us to look at all the ways directors can be replaced, as well as at the relationships between Directors, and Officers. It lets us see that it is actually very simple to fix some mistakes (eg. all you have to do is submit a new Notice of Directors…no big deal). One can also see that the bigger problem might lie in the ongoing relationships between the parties, and not so much in the legal documentation.

So lets’s add in an Indigenous Law piece. It is the case of Big River First Nation and Agency Chiefs Tribal Council Inc. The case comes out of the Non-Profit Sector, but gets at the same question as above: what happens when group A tries to remove someone from group B as a director?

What makes the case doubly interesting is that the Judge here refers not only to Canadian law (working with Saskatchewan law dealing with non-profit corporations), but also to Cree law.

Click on the link below for an 8 minute video I prepared about this case for students in my 2020 version of Law 315: Business Associations

If you need a bit more backstory on the legal pieces before jumping into the ‘classrooom link’, here are a few more resources. First, here is a summary of the case from CanLII.

Here is a blogpost about the case by (former law student) Miny Atwal.

The link below will connect to a PDF version of some of my annotations on the case.

I will be so very interested to hear what others make of the case, and how these two stories together might facilitate some of the important conversations we need as we begin struggling towards ways of working through the complicated business of problem solving!

The Social Life of (Northern) Stories: Reflections on Oral and Aural Culture

Strange bedfellows being what they are in these COVID-19 times….. back in March 2020, I spent the second week of isolation with Julie Cruikshank (the scholar) and Richard Wagner (the composer, not the Supreme Court Justice).  It left me reflecting on stories and storytelling, and what it means to more actively draw the power of oral and aural culture into the business of living.

MET_RingEncore_PosterAs part of their response to the COVID crisis, the Met Opera put out a free streaming service:  a different opera every night at 7:30.  It was no surprise to see Wagner show up.   Over the course of 4 nights, one could see their 2011-2012 staging of The Ring Cycle (set design by Quebec artist Robert Lepage). Like everyone else, I was familiar with some classic pieces (The Ride of the Valkyries does pull up both scenes from Apocalypse Now, and The Blues Brothers in my imagination).

But my own music school love affair with Wagner had been through Tristan und Isolde, and not really through the Ring Cycle.   It is hard to find the time for such an extended engagement with Opera.   But then came quarantine.  So I settled in to watch it with some gratitude, but largely searching for distraction: looking for something that would give my mind a bit of a rest from thinking about the other things that were at the front of my mind: politics, protests, blockades, and plagues (and particularly the heartbreaking resonances to the past, and the role of plagues in the history of Canadian colonization.)

Surely Opera would give my mind a rest? Closed captioning enabled, laptop in front of me, and the music washing over the room.

I, of course, should have remembered that origin stories generally involve a return to questions of law, violence, jurisdiction and justice.   The big picture questions were likely to arise.   And so they did.  Not too long into the opera, I was listening to the Giants argue with Odin about the injustice in his rupture of the agreement they had reached about their building of Valhalla.   There it was.  The words that were also being uttered by Indigenous peoples to the State across the country:


Uh?   Is this really Giants talking to Odin?   Or a message sent to Canadian Parliament?!

We need reminders from Giants about ‘the honour of the Crown’?!



So where is Julie Cruikshank in this story?


I have been really enjoying her book The Social Life of Stories: Narrative and Knowledge in the Yukon Territory (University of Nebraska Press, 2000). As you might imagine from the title, her focus is on the continuing social significance of stories — how storytelling continues to shape the ways we experience and belong to the world. And for a person such as myself (one raised in the tradition of storytellers, and speech arts competitions), there is such pleasure in thinking about aurality….whether in listening to poetry, stories, or songs.

And so, as I listened to the lush music (of a very politically contentious composer), I found myself thinking about some passages from Cruikshank. As she says:

Meaning does not inhere in events but involves weaving those events into stories that are meaningful at the time. … people invoke the past to talk about the present and the present to talk about the past.

Julie Cruikshank, The Social Life of Stories (2000) at 2-3.

I do love that quote. And it reminds me of all the reasons why it matters that we keep drawing story into the ways that we talk about the past and the present. So many ways to think about how our cultural inheritances (whatever those might be) can be drawn into the present to think about ways to respond to our current situations (including those thorny questions about what it means for us today to honour the treaties that we are part of, as well as honouring the reality of the treaties that are not yet in place. Lots of work to do, and more things for me to think about.

[EDITOR NOTE:  I drafted this post in March of 2020, and only finally got around to finishing it.   So what date do I give to such a piece of writing?   Adventures in temporality!]

“Where Happiness Dwells: A History of the Dane-Zaa First Nations” (a video summary)

For the last several years, UVic Law has run a summer intensive course in Indigenous Law Research, Method and Practice. Each year, the course has been situated in the context of a different legal order. In past summers, different cohorts have engaged with Tsilqot’in, Secwepemc, Cree, and Gitxsan law. This summer, the students are engaging with Dane-zaa Law, and are reading the book Where Happiness Dwells as a primer and introduction.

Written by embedded anthropologists Robin Ridington & Gillian Riddington in collaboration with Elders of the Dane-zaa First Nations, this book is, as promised, “A History of the Dane-zaa First Nation.” The book draws on multiple voices, sources, resources, modes of engagement and forms of encounter.

I first saw this book when it was published in 2013 (when Val Napoleon suggested that I read it). At the time, I recall a set of mixed feelings in response. I was very impressed, but also a bit overwhelmed. It was, in many ways, my first exposure to a book of this sort.

By ‘of this sort’, I mean a truly comprehensive engagement with a specific Indigenous legal order, written from within that legal order, and with attention to language, gender, kinship, cosmology, spirituality, economy, politics, dispute resolution, conflicts, inter-societal engagement and more

By 2017, two more books of this kind had been published: Neil Sterritt’s, Mapping My Way Home: A Gitxsan History, and Ron Ignace and Marianne Ignace’s, Secwépemc People, Land and Laws. All three of these books belong of the bookshelf of every person living in British Columbia.

But back in 2013, with Where Happiness Dwells, I was having my first exposure to such a rich and layered text. Just about everything in the book carried some level of unfamiliarity to me (not surprising since histories such as these were certainly not part of Canadian history as taught in the educational curriculum of my secondary schooling). As I said, it felt a bit overwhelming.

Really great books are, I sometimes think, a bit like places: the more you visit with them, the more you come to see and love in them. And this book is a great book! I should thus not have been surprised at how much I have enjoyed returning to this book eight years later for a second engagement.

Now, it may simply be the case that when one has to teach with a book, one reads it with quite different eyes. Certainly, knowing that I was slotted to teach this course (with Val Napoleon and Hadley Friedland) did incentivize the reading.

Certainly, I can affirm that when reading it the second time, my pens were marking and highlighting up the text in ways that might give a librarian a stomach ache.

But there is more. I found myself appreciating how the book encourages one to think about the business of teaching and learning and Indigenous Laws, and the place of stories and storytelling in that teaching. It also invited reflection on the work of both telling and listening to stories.

I appreciated, for example, how the book not only provided multiple versions of the same origin story by Charlie Yahey, but also shared his insights about how to work with and understand such stories.

I also loved the opportunity to look more closely at stories themselves, and different genres of story telling. So too, a gift to be able to read about intersociety collaborations and conflicts through from the early days of the fur trade through to the present. It was also a gift to have men, women and children all appear in the stories and story telling.

These extensive interactions with story, song, dream and conflict also left me wondering about not only about the work I might do in the classroom, but also about my engagements with my young ‘niblings’ (Gillian Calder’s gender neutral term for ‘nieces and nephews). It got me thinking about the ways all of us (at home, with friends, in our social networks) talk to each other about laws and their place in our lives and conversations.

In the clip below, I share (with students from the summer course) some ideas about the structure of the book, and the gift of each chapter.

Rebecca gives a summary of the book

Conversations with “Legal Thinkers” (Theorists?)

What is legal theory?  And what might be its place in the life of the law student, the legal professional, or the ordinary citizen?  This is only one of the questions that Professor Julen Etxabe (Allard School of Law) takes up in his series, “Conversations with Legal Thinkers”. 

I have been ruminating on some related questions.  What is the difference between a legal thinker, and a legal theorist?  Is there a difference between “doing” legal theory, and “being” a legal theorist?   What is it to claim the label of “Legal Theorist” in one’s self-identification?  This is a question I have been reflecting on, in the aftermath of participating in Julen’s series.  If you want to listen in to the 30 minute conversation between us, you can find it here:

Screen Shot 2020-09-26 at 6.06.22 PM

I have been returning to the question of what it is to be a legal theorist, particularly after listening to the other episodes in the series, as Julen speaks with people whose thinking has shaped my own (James Boyd White, Jennifer Nedelsky, William MacNeil, Panu Minkkinen, Scott Veitch and Mark Antaki).   It was a pleasure to listen to each episode.  I felt like I had been at a lovely dinner party, with a group of brilliant legal theorists, each of whom gave me something delicious to think about it.

I feel very comfortable attaching the label ‘legal theorist’ to each of the people in the series.  But I noted that I have some lingering ambivalence about describing myself as a legal theorist.  I was comfortable imagining myself ‘doing’ theory, but floundering about the ‘being’ part of the puzzle.  So what is, I wondered, the difference between doing theory and being a  theorist?   I wondered if there were some hidden gendered presumptions about the theory/practice divide still messing about in back of my mind.  

When thinking about Julen’s series, and about claiming the word ‘theorist’ for myself, I couldn’t help but think back to 2019, and a particularly memorable iteration of the Legal Theory Workshop I had been teaching for years (aka “Law and Film”).  This course is always delicious, but that year was unusual: it was populated exclusively by female students.   

While this was not worrisome, it was somewhat unexpected.  My film courses often attracted somewhat more women than men, but it was curious that not a single man registered for it that semester.  This version was “Inuit Law and Film”, which did not signal, in my view, a gendered curriculum.  And yet, it was impossible not to have some gender theory wash across the horizon.  I wondered if the gendered composition would have any impact on how the conversation spilled out over the term. 

Feminism and intersectional feminist theorizing have been a huge defining part of my life, but this was not necessarily the case for all the students in the class. The class was in no way a homogenous group.  These women brought with them significant diversity: some students were partnered, some were single; some had children, some did not; some were young, and others older; sexual and gender identity ranged across the spectrum; several students were Indigenous, coming from different First Nations; some students were from Europe on exchange terms, while others had lived in Canada all their lives; for those identifying as Canadians, some came from families that had immigrated within a generation, and some had great-grandparents who had been part of earlier waves of settlement/colonization.  Some came to law school from sciences, some from humanities; some loved sports, some hunting, some cooking, some music, some reading. Some were deeply religious and others deeply agnostic. Some had a background in film, and others did not.  They were a profoundly diverse group of women.  They were also joined in a shared project of exploring jurisprudential and cinematic stories told of Canadian and Inuit legal orders.

Sharae Antley’s “Two-Spirited Beading Project”. She worked on this during class time.

I can say that the class ‘felt’ different.  While the politics of  feminism was not always drawn explicitly into the classroom, many of the practices of feminism seemed to be on display, in attention to the many ways the women inhabited their bodies and their minds.  From my perspective, I felt I was witnessing an unusual mixture of ‘lack of caution’, coupled with ‘increased curiosity’.  They played around with the pedagogy of teaching and learning.  They disrupted the space and expectations of classroom.  They arrived early for class, and moved the desks around, creating a kind of 5 sided pentagon so that each person was fully visible to the others.  They also brought ‘projects’ with them to class to work on while we talked:  some knitted or crocheted, some brought beadwork projects, others drew or doodled, and all engaged with the films, reading and each other.  There was significant laughter, and often snacks!

There were also mothers.  That semester, my mother Arta Johnson had come to spend time with our family, and so she also joined the class.   This seemed to empower the students, and so when their own mothers were visiting, they would bring them to class as well.  So we had a space of multiple mothers.  This opened space for additional layers of connection and conversation, as the older women shared stories or opinions drawn from their own experience and related to the films and questions they raised.

Sometimes mothers push you to think or try something new.  And one push was to claim the label of theorist.  Early in the term, when a number of students expressed some fear around theory and theorizing, Arta challenged them.  She told them not to shy away, but to claim the label of theorist for themselves.  They were, she asserted, already theorists!  I have a vivid memory of Arta sitting beside one thoughtful (and quiet) young woman, trying to encourage her to say the words out loud, “I am a theorist! I am a theorist!” They were both laughing.  It was so fun and funny!

I think often of that class, of the lovely students in what became a rich space of community.  When I talked with my mother about the class, she said:

“I too have thought often about that class of only women. We didn’t have to explain ourselves and went right into feminist theory.  In looking back at that space, we never had to apologize for being women. That is what woman do all too often.  I’d like to express an opinion, but it comes from my experience as being a woman, of having had children, where I don’t want to offend/invalidate the men in the group. And so I hold the view in. In this classroom, I didn’t.”

I wonder if some of that was going on?  In that exclusively female space of the classroom (an occurrence that was random and provisional) had gender momentarily dropped out of our fields of vision, inviting us to step onto the field of legal theory in different ways, less fettered by our own inherited presumptions about the possible?   I think often of Arta telling not only the students but also me that the temporary and gendered space of our classroom was a place to play with theory, a place to be theorists.  And that was a thought that stuck with me: that there can be power and joy in imagining oneself as both a student of legal theory and also as a legal theorist.  I like that.  I think she might be right.  In paying attention to the world around us, in engaging with our experiences (expected and unexpected), in looking to what can be learned and incorporated from the experiences, are we not practicing theory?  And being theorists?

Just a thought. 

Taming of the Shrew and Intimate Violence

maxresdefault-2Back in 2016, I went to see the Stratford Festival version of “The Taming of the Shrew” at our local cinema (part of the “Events” programming).   I started a post, and then got distracted, and never finished it.  It sat lonely in my “drafts” folder all this time.  I would occasionally think of finishing the post, but then remind myself that the season had ended, and folks were unlikely to see that version,

Flash forward to COVID times, and my mother Arta tells me that this very version is now on the web!  on Youtube!  Indeed, she has been watching it with the “niblings” (gender-inclusive term Gillian Calder uses for ‘nieces and nephews’…I love that it rhymes with ‘siblings’)

Here are two of Arta’s reports on that viewing experience:


She reminded me that I had started a post.  And I decided that though I might finish it later, I would share with her the start of the post.  so here it is.

———–FLASHBACK to 2016 ——————-

I went to the local theatre (yes, with my two teenaged boys) to watch the Stratford version of “The Taming of the Shrew”.  Both amazing and interesting.  Full kudos to the actors.  Truly amazing craft.  [a great review of the performance can be found here:

Of course, I am always left reflecting on the ways things link up with each other.  I am teaching criminal law this term, and so am deep in the case law of sexual assault, drunken assault, provocation, and self-defence.  Teaching criminal law is indeed an experience of swimming in a world of broken and damaged female bodies.

And so, what to make of this most light of Shakespeare plays, with its deep core of misogyny, with it taming of a woman’s will?  How do I sit that alongside battered woman’s syndrome (which i will be teaching 4 days hence), and alongside my taking of my boys to see the play?

How do i work with the mixture of pleasure and critique as this 420 year old play slides its way into the present?

The final scene, the famous final scene in which she tells the other woman that it is their place to obey their husbands?!  Well, in advance of going, I wondered how the troupe would pull this off?  How would she  (Deborah Hay as Katherine) work this scene?  How my boys would hear the scene?  How would I set it up in advance to prep them (my boys) for a conversation about what we learn in the present from this engagement from the past?

The play was stellar.

And if I was worried about that final text?  Well…. the actors were amazing.   She delivered “the words”, but somehow, in that delivery…. it was a combination of her tone, and his responses… she somehow delivered them in ways that enabled him (Petruchio) to take on a visible recognition of shame at what he had done, and hold out the possibility that he needed to change.   Interesting.   Not an ending that validated the abuse… but one that make the pattern of abuse visible.  Certainly opened space for lots of conversation.   If you get a chance, go take a look!

Building Community in COVID-19 TIMES

COVID-19.    Changing (at least for now) the ways we can teach.   So this is a post for the teachers out there!…

Screenshot 2020-06-12 07.22.01
Course Description, Objectives & Evaluation

One of the courses I teach (at the University of Victoria Faculty of Law) is the Graduate Seminar in Law & Society (aka “Legal Theory”).  I adore teaching this class, which I am sure functions much like every other such class across the country: a relatively small number of LLM and PhD students from different countries, with different disciplinary backgrounds and different research questions.  We meet once a week for three hours for a (mostly) joyful engagement with theory and theorists.

[Click on these links if you want to see the course description or syllabus from the 2018 version of the course].

That is the ‘formal education piece’ of the class.  But we also meet in the hallways, at public lectures, in the library, and in each other’s kitchens.   So there is significant time for serendipitous conversation, and to elaborate on ideas, methods, and strategies for study.

“Place” matters, and one can not under-estimate the importance of all of these small moments in the building of relations, communities, and even ideas.  But this year, because of COVID-19, Law 501 will be fully online.  Until the travel restrictions lift, we will be building our classroom community across a span of 14 time zones.   A challenge.

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The Reading List for the Course

There is so much “housekeeping” in the work of research and theory.  If you don’t do that work, the house is a mess.  In both the intellectual and material worlds, the work of cleaning up never ends, of course. But it is nice to have the house clean when it is time for a party.   My hope is that our synchronous online conversation space will be an amenable and tidy space for fun.

We need a space for the side conversations, the office visits, and the chats by the photocopier.    What I don’t want to do is use up that limited face-to-face time that Zoom offers us with me talking to them about tools.  Or rather, I think those conversations happen best one-on-one in the office.  So how to replicate that kind of conversation? My hope is that a collection of small videos might help create those side conversations, to support the on-line class community to develop a shared vocabulary about tools and methods.  And the actual online engagements can be a rockin’ Theory Party!

And thus, the video below.   In the spirit of sharing, here is my first attempt to create a small side conversation about how and why the students are asked to summarize the readings, and how I would suggest they do it, and think about it.

Want to See More of the Context?

Click on these links if you would like to see the course description or syllabus from the 2018 version of the course, developed in collaboration with the wonderful Mark Zion (whose critical mind also generated the playful and provocative titles for each week’s engagement, which make another valuable contribution to the pleasures of the theory party).

Technological Observations?

As law school teachers, I know we will all be learning more about online delivery as we go, and that our time and energy for learning about new platforms is limited.   Making this video took less time than I anticipated, and was much easier to do than I feared.  It was done by using the record function on Zoom, by taking 3 photos with my phone, and then by spending a surprisingly short amount of time, less than an hour,using iMovie (with the guidance of DIY videos from the web).  Low tech, but doable!

I would love to hear ideas from others about ways that small videos might be used in different classroom contexts.

At The Bridge: James Teit and an Anthropology of Belonging

20200528_171147_hdrLooking for a good read this summer, during COVID times?  One of my favourite books of the year is Wendy Wickwire’s book,  At the Bridge: James Teit and an Anthropology of Belonging (UBC Press, 2019).

Now, you may be thinking “I don’t know who James Teit is”, or “Anthropology isn’t really my thing.”   I would encourage you to push past those responses, and say that if you give this book a try, you will come away being so happy to have built a relationship with James Teit, and I suspect you may also come away feeling connected in a more intimate way to the places you live (where ever those places are) and feeling more  hopeful about the ways we all may choose, in these difficult times, to become anthropologists of belonging.  In concrete terms, here is what it says on the back cover of the book:

Every once in a while, an important historical figure makes an appearance, makes a difference, and then disappears from the public record.  James Teit (1864-1922) was such a figure.  A prolific ethnographer and tireless Indian rights activist, Teit spent four decades helping British Columbia’s Indigenous people in their challenge of he settler-colonial assault on their lives and territories.  At the Bridge chronicles Teits’s fascinating story:  From this base at Spences Bridge, BC, Teit practised a participant-based anthropology that covered much of BC and northern Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. Whereas his contemporaries, including famed anthropologist Franz Boas, studied Indigenous peoples as the last survivors of “dying cultures” in need of preservation in metropolitan museums, Teit worked with them as members of living cultures actively asserting jurisdiction over their lives and lands.  At the Bridge lifts this story from obscurity.

It bugs me knowing Boas published this photo of Teit and Ankto photo without identifying them.

I was excited when this book came out, in part because I had already encountered Teit.  Or at least, I knew his name.  For several years, I had been part of a partnership between ILRU (the Indigenous Law Research Unit at UVic) and the SNTC (The Shuswap Nation Tribal Council) working on a number of the Secwépemc Law projects. In these projects, we were asked to work with a number of Secwépemc storied legal resources, and to draw on a number of those gathered by James Teit at the turn of the last century (You can see a copy of the Lands and Resources Law Research Project here).  All this to say, I knew that his name was on the monograph from which we drew these resources.  But I knew next to nothing about Teit himself.

And now, I love him.   Seriously.  And I love thinking about his Nlaka’pamux wife Antko, and the place of women in this important story.  And I love the book.   You know I love a book if I lay traces of my pens and highlighters so thickly across the paper.  20200528_171439_hdrMy copy of the book pretty much looks like this…..  I couldn’t help myself!  (sorry to you librarian folk out there who try to maintain book purity). But the text simply drew me into engagement, and there were just so many things i wanted to be able to return to. While my kids (nearly adult man-cubs?) have not yet ‘read’ the book (physically run their eyes over the pages), they both have a good sense of what is there:  while I was reading, I was constantly stopping to interrupt them in their other endeavours, so I could read them different sections from the book.

A treat to see pages from his field notes, always identifying specific storytellers, weavers, hunters…

It is just chock-a-block full histories that need knowing.   And it is written in such an accessible style, whether one is a theorist, a historian, a  teenager, a community member, a health care worker, an environmentalist, a linguist, a knitter, a basket maker.  Beautifully thoughtful and inviting.

I also think it should be mandatory reading for anyone teaching in a law school (OK.  Not that I would “mandate” anything, but I think people would WANT to have access to this one).

The day I finished my first read through of this book, I sent the following note out to my law school colleagues, detailing all the reasons I think this book should be on all our shelves, and should be drawn into our teaching, our research, and our practices of engaging in the socio-political world around us.  I still stand by that analysis.

Hi all:
I have been reading my way through Wendy Wickwire’s new book At the Bridge: An Anthropology of Belonging, and wanted to put the word out that I think this book might be the “must read” book of the year.  I have been thinking about how it is a game changer in a number of areas:
 1. People teaching in BC law schools – I feel like the historical pieces of BC finally started settling into place with this book
2.  People teaching constitutional law – wow to the ability of this book to get at both confederation questions and federalism ones
3.  People thinking about reconciliation stuff — the story of James Teit is so absolutely inspiring in terms of seeing indigenous/settler collaborations and working relationships
4.  People working on any of the transsystemmic questions — this book gets at the legal orders in the BC interior
5.  People thinking about the history of Victoria and Vancouver Island — I just think this book should be taught in all the high schools here too.
6.  People looking for models and pathways for how we begin to have more complex engagements of law at the current juncture.
7.  People cautious about the place of anthropology in our legal work — this book makes visible multiple ways of doing anthropology, and provides tools for distinguishing the kinds of approaches that are more and less helpful/valuable (indeed, left me feeling rather inspired about the possibilities of acting otherwise)
Anyways…. I think it would be a great choice for a faculty “book club” read.   This will be an amazing resource for us here in the law school, and I am really keen on having others to talk to about the book (and ways to think about drawing this book into our resources in both first year and upper year courses)
Wendy Wickwire’s At the Bridge is one of those books that has shifted my sense of history, and my sense of what is possible when it comes to walking the path of respectful relations, and taking seriously the hopeful potential in decolonizing actions.  What James Teit did (as a settler to Canada) is possible for all of us to do.  He offers us a pathway.  It is ours to walk.

Returning to “Before Tomorrow” in COVID Times

BeforetomorrowfilmIn this month of global attention to the COVID pandemic, I find myself playing and replaying scenes from the 2008 Isuma Igloolik film, Before Tomorrow.

This film has been haunting the corners of my mind for years now.

Now it is taking on a larger presence, as the questions it poses have moved from being academic and historical to being current and pressing.

If you haven’t seen it, do!  The trailer  captures the stunning cinematographic feel of this film.  It is so beautiful.

I should, of course, begin with the cautionary note that is necessary in these times.   The film (though fictional) is set in the Arctic during the small-pox epidemics of the 18th and 19th centuries.  Here is the spoiler alert:  smallpox arrives at the community, killing everyone but the grandmother and grandson.

But the smallpox is not quite the point of the film.  It is rather the context for the bigger questions that it poses.  This is suggested by the music of the opening credits: we begin with the McGarrigle Sisters’ (1997) song “Why Must We Die?”.

Though the film opens with this question, it really asks us to consider a different question, “How shall we live?” And I put the emphasis here on the word how, and not on the word shall.  There is no avoiding the pandemic.  And indeed, that death arrives is not the centre of the film.  The centre of the film is about the relationships of the people to each other and to the land. It is about ways of living.

Image credit: Isuma TV

In particular, we are invited to think about these relationships of life and living by suturing ourselves to the relationship between the grandmother and grandson.  The characters are played by real life grandmother and grandson, Madeline Ivalu and Paul-Dylan Ivalu.

This alone would make the film a treasure.  How many films can you draw to mind that centre an older woman!?  And particularly, a grandmother and grandson?!  This gives us an unusual space of intimacy.  The film centres the two of them, and the life that they continue to live in the face of the catastrophe that has arrived.

Though the questions it raises are hard to face head on, the film is exquisite.  In these times, I find myself reflecting on my own forgetfulness about the multiple epidemics that have swept across this nation, doing particularly brutal damage to Indigenous and Inuit communities.  In 2020, as the globe seems to come together around an epidemic that might lead us to a death-rate of between 1-4%, I think again about what questions have confronted communities impacted by death rates between 30 and 90% (depending on the community).  As historian Cole Harris notes in his article “Voices of Disaster”, this is a holocaust that Canadians still speak very little about.   Indeed, the numbers of people lost are not numbers that I can make sense of.  The mind slips away from the magnitude.

Image credit: Isuma TV

Before Tomorrow, provides a kind of an anchor, one that makes visible the horror of the epidemics, but also grounds another set of questions that seem so pressing in these times.   How will we, as we confront what lies ahead, bind ourselves to continuing relationships with the patterns of life in all their beauty?  What relations might we build and sustain?

If you are interested in reading more about the film, I discuss it in a chapter about intercultural encounters, and learning about Inuit law through film. [Click here for a link to the text]. The full cite is:

Johnson, Rebecca. “Intercultural Cinema and the (Re)Envisioning of Law:   Exploring Life, Death and Law in Atanarjuat and Before Tomorrow.” In Envisioning Legality: Law, Culture and Representation, edited by Timothy D. Peters and Karen Crawley, 228-48: Routledge, 2018.