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!

“Reimagining Justice: Art, Law and Social Change” – The Gallery Walk

VPRE_05616_02_IF2019_542x288_web_bannerOUTIdeaFest is the University of Victoria’s annual research festival, showcasing the ideas of faculty, students and staff from across the University. This year, there were a number of events involving the Law School community.   One was “Reimagining Justice: Art, Law and Social Change”.

This event involved a series of talks during the week about Law and Theatre, Law and Dance, Law and the Arts, and the Arts as Pedagogy.  As part of this event, for the duration of the week, the UVic law moot court room was transformed into an interactive art installation showcasing the relationship between art, law and social justice.  The room was filled with creative projects that had been handed in  as part of the course work in classes such as Criminal Law, Business Associations, Family Law, Constitutional Law, and Sexual Orientation and the Law.  The project curated by Lorinda Fraser (MSc in Museum Studies). Click here for a link to the Exhibition Catalogue, which lists the students whose work was featured.

DSC_0803.JPGOn the final day of the event, we held a “Gallery Walk” where three of the professors who had been involved (Professors Gillian Calder, Rebecca Johnson and Sara Ramshaw) spoke in more detail about the specific projects that were in the room, to open space for conversations about things that might be learned through producing, evaluating, and interacting with arts-based methods in the context of a law school. What follows below is a transcript of that gallery walk, along with some images to capture the sense of the exhibition.


Rebecca Johnson (RJ): We would like to begin by acknowledging with respect the Lekwungen-speaking peoples on whose traditional territory the University stands and the Songhees, Esquimalt and WSÁNEĆ peoples whose historical relationships with the land continue to this day. One of the gifts of making such acknowledgements is that they remind us to take the opportunity to learn how we, as uninvited guests in these beautiful territories, can learn to live in ways that are lawful for the Coast Salish world. We are happy to have you here for our Gallery Walk for IdeaFest. This is Professor Gillian Calder, I am Rebecca Johnson, and this is Professor Sara Ramshaw. We have been working with Lorinda Fraser, one of our own, who has recently completed her Masters in Museum Studies. She worked with us to curate a sampling of projects that have been handed in for classes in our law school over a number of years.

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Restructuring the Dispute Resolution Room

Gillian Calder (GC): Part of what we have been thinking and talking about is how evaluation and iterative learning are done at law school. How do we bring deep learning to our students in the kinds of assignments that they have the opportunity to do?  How much of who students are is formed by what they go on to do?  How much of law involves creativity, imagination and empathy?  How do we train those skills?  What teachers have always done is to find opportunities with students, when they are doing assignments or in their exams in their courses, to answer questions in ways that the questions demand.

A papier-mâché latern to illuminate law?

Most commonly in law, that is done through written answers, essays, and exams. But sometimes the question can be best answered by drawing on some other form. What you have in the room is a sampling of some of those. What we are going to do is walk around a bit and talk about some of these projects. We will not be able to give you the exact question each student was asked for each project, but what you should know is that there are projects in this room from Criminal Law, Business Associations, Family Law, Sexual Orientation and the Law, Directed Reading Classes and others. The questions that the students were answering through these projects were often the same questions answered by other students through more conventional forms; and so some students answered through papers, and some through projects. Some of these projects were evaluated on a pass/fail basis, and others based on letter grade.  Some of these projects were worth 10% of the final grade, others were worth 30%, and yet others represent the entirety of a student’s work in the course. That is why these projects are very different in scope and in size. We are going to walk around and talk with you about various projects. We invite you to ask questions, and to interrogate us about our experiences as teachers.  To ask us how we hold a paper and a project side by side. To ask us more about the learning we have needed to do in order to feel able evaluate these different kinds of engagements.

The view from the judges bench

RJ: These projects will also let us discuss what we have learned in the process of engaging with work that raises expectations different from those we had for more conventional work. And as with all gallery tours, we will cluster in front of something and there will be chairs for people who want to sit, and for people who can get down on the floor and somehow get back up, then feel free to sit there as we move around. So let us start.

Foraging for tea. Does law have a fragrance?

GC:  Some of the projects are rooted in the textual. On the judges’ bench at the front, for example, there is some non-conventional written work that has been handed in. Poetry books. Scrapbooks.  Photo albums.  A poem that has been published in a law journal (the poem was handed in as an exam in Federalism in Law in December and was just published). There are some examples like that around. Some of the pieces are purely visual.  You will see art on the walls around you.   There are videos playing on the screen on the wall.  There is also an mp3 player in the witness box, so you can sit there with headphones on and listen to songs that students have written and performed.

RJ:  Perhaps we can start with games as a genre since we are already gathered at this table.

Goal? To adopt a child before window of possibility closes.

GC: This table displays 4 different game categories. I will talk briefly about the game on the far end. This was a game handed in for family law, for 40% of the mark. The question the students were asked to respond to was “How does law regulate your understanding of the family?” with the option given to answer the question in whatever format was best.  This student wanted to write about obstacles that exist to gay men adopting in Canada notwithstanding that there are no formal barriers, in law, to same-sex partners, or single gay folk adopting. So he created that game that demonstrates that even though law is inclusive, there remain many barriers.  So you play the game and the goal is for you and your partner to get to the end where you adopt a baby. But you have to cross identity barriers and financial barriers and other kinds of barriers to get there.  When you play the game you feel it in your body. You understand obstacles by playing the game that you would not understand in the same sense by just reading about them. It is fun to engage with the game but you never lose sight of the fact that this is a real struggle; the project makes the argument that homophobia exists in many of our practices around how we create families in Canada, even with the shifts in Family Law. It was a stunning project and often when I  am encouraging students to think about doing projects, I bring out this game for them to play to give them a sense of what some possibilities might be for them. It is one of the best ways that an essay question has ever been answered in Family Law.

An Alternative “Board Game Cafe?”

RJ: In terms of game tables you can see there are different kinds of games and different forms of engagement. Part of the work with games and students is beginning to think of how creating the rules of the game and learning how to change the rules as you go along can provide a space for learning questions about not only how you engage with a concept but how you think about teaching people you work with, people in families — how to see structural and systemic patterns. And also how to think about the difference between collaborative games, and competitive games and history games. The genre of gaming can help work through different kinds of challenges. And different forms of games. Sometimes students work with the structures that they already know. Taking something like The Settlers of Catan, for those of you who have played that game, and then modifying the game to think about the place of economy and settlement. So there are games that draw on that form. There are games that are card games that similarly draw on traditions of card games.  The projects help us think differently about the place of adaptation and creativity and modifying that which has come before. Like what it means to draw up the resources of things that you have and then modify them, adapt them and move them forward.  The card game on the table, for example, draws on the structure of a game called Zombie Fight or Flight (developed by professor Sharon Sutherland) and then the project explored the kinds of modifications that would make it work in the context of economic re-imaginaries. The work is in working on the relationship between an established game and a new form.

Marking a game by making one’s kids play?

RJ:  I note here that if you look at the video monitor in the room, you will see a rotation of photos capturing additional projects that are not in the room.  Included there is a photo of me playing a game with a friend and our young boys. That photo leads me to echo some of what Gillian said about difference between looking at a game and playing a game. One of the challenges for marking a game as a project is that games are often most pleasurable when one knows its rules and is able to play creatively within the structure of the game. So sometimes from a marking perspective, it is interesting that it is often quicker to mark a paper than a project, particularly if the project is a game. But a game teaches you other things. One game will go by on the monitor at some point, a simple game with basic tools.  But its magic was in the playing.  In the photo, you see me and friend Stacy, harnessing our young boys to the work of ‘evaluation’: the four of us tried to play this game that involved a continually re-working of the rules themselves (with each round, the group had to first decide what rules of governance or decision-making would apply). We adults watched our young teens invent new rules, like, if you didn’t say, “All hail the king!” at the beginning of your turn, you lost points. Realizing the randomness that came through the playing was part of the pleasure of the game.

Modified Gameboards

You can see other game-engagements on the table, including this one, a modification of a Monopoly Board with a written paper on the bottom of the board, talking about the history of Monopoly or Anti-Monopoly. So you could see again people taking up games and actively shoving them or pushing them to be not exactly something you would play, but rather something you would use to think through a problem. So, games and gaming is a category of things that students have thought through and played with and learned with.  We have certainly learned much from them in those engagements.

Objects of Law…

GC: At the next table, we have a series of objects. I am going to talk about this piece which was also a 40% question in a family law project. The question again is how does law regulate our understanding of the family. This project was done by a student, a trans-man, who is the birth mother of his 2 children having given birth to his children before transitioning.  And for his project, he produced this object: a pregnant body.

The gendered body

There are many stories that circulate around and with this object.  One is that, in his first year of law school, his parents sued him for custody of his children because of this gender identity.  He did this project as an attempt to capture and to document what it is to be at the same time a birth mother and a trans man.  What you see in this project also depends on your position.  Some of you are positioned as if a midwife or doctor, looking up the stirrups. This is the position through which people will first see this object when they come enter this room.

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A Re-working of “Are You My Mother?”

The project also includes a book, which is part of the argument.  Here, he begins with P.D. Eastman’s classic book, Are You My Mother?, but he has changed the book to play with the notion of the gender binary.  In this way, he raises questions about what it is to be someone’s mother. And what was amazing is that after he did the project, there was a time at the law school where there was some concern raised in the student body about our ability to change our bathrooms to be gender inclusive. 

How are different bodies supported in space?

And our student took the opportunity to remind those of us with cisgender privilege about what it means, every day, to carry that privilege.  He talked about his experience, as a man, in the changing room at his local pool, with his children calling him mom.  The object and its stories flowed out in ways that were transformative; modelling how creativity in law enables unique engagement on some of law’s most pressing issues.

An archive of gendered items

GC: Next is a Museum Box project.  This one was a final project in Sexual Orientation and the Law, which students affectionately call Sex-O. It comes with a guide to the museum box of items and what appears to be a tape recorded story of this student coming back to the school in 2057 to discover the challenges of gender and trans-identity being a museum item.  That is, the box is full of objects once central to gender binaries, objects that no longer function as anything but artifacts of a time past.  In this way, the museum box has captured the idea that we might be able to live in a different world. We have here the idea of transformation captured in different forms. Both the trans-man and the Museum Box projects push the boundaries of different kinds of questions. Both projects draw from personal experience of the students and I can say that I have felt very shaped by both projects.

The Matryousha Doll — Layers of the Economy

RJ: The next two objects on this table were handed in for a Business Associations Class. Both projects were an engagement with JK Gibson-Graham’s book, Take Back the Economy. The book was assigned reading for the course, and students were asked to use the book as a launching point to explore the contours of the economic imaginary — wondering how one might creatively re-imagine business and its challenges. The book explores markets, property, finance internationalization, subjectivity and economic rationality.  One person engaged with the book by making a Matryoshka. You can see the person has taken an 8-piece matryoshka doll, and has repurposed it.  It has been painted over, and each nested doll has been papered with texts or images to represent a different layer of our economic universe.  The first layers takes us to selected provisions of the Business Corporations Act, and then picks down through layers, taking up work, finance, international economic flows, commodities, networks, human relations,  and then there is a little bit of copulation and reproduction going on down here at the bottom of the matryoshka, and finally moving down to the centre, the final black box, which contains a secret scroll which presumably holds a clue to the ultimate answer. Of course, it is a single question mark. One of the things that was interesting about this project is this student was very concerned or worried about the requirement for words at all times. His argument was, we should be able to stand without words and so he handed in this project with no textual support. Usually in my classes, for this kind of work, the argument to the student from me is, it is not about the product you produce, it is about the process. So you can have a product that completely fails to do what the student imagined it would do, that comes in conjunction with textual support or a paper that talks about what they learned in the process of attempting something that didn’t work. So the goal is really on having the process problems being central to the work, not so much the object itself.  But this object came with no additional text.  This student actively made the decision to deny me access to any text beyond the object.  [insert big smile here].  In short, his argument was simply, “Here it is.  You figure out what to make of it.”  It was interesting, starting to have this idea of, what is it to mark, evaluate, or simply engage with a project where no words are offered to you?  So from this project, I learned so much.  It required me to think about what assumptions I was bringing to the interpretation of each of these layers. This opened me up to the idea of lawyering is precisely this, that we don’t often have the guide that tells us how we are to interact with the various layers we can pull apart, and that the project pulls itself up, pun intended to these many levels.

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labour and creativity in work

RJ:  The next object is a pair of beaded feathers.  It also came with textual support: a paper where the  student talked about learning how to bead a feather and what additional things she was learning in the doing. She beaded two feathers, and used the occasion to explore both Indigenous law and teachings, and challenges around the commodification of (women’s) labour in a global economy. So she chose to work on the first feather only after she had already completed a 12-hour day of work. And then, she monitored the amount of work, the time, the felt experience of doing the work.  For the second feather, she did the beading on a day where she had cleared everything else off her plate.  She worked at her own pace with her own imaginative tools to produce the feather. Then she reflected on the actual cost of materials and the question of value. And of what consumers are prepared to pay for these pieces. The two feathers are objects of beauty.  I note that the paper also engaged with the question of feathers, and which ones she could (choose to) use or not use.  This opened up space for an engagement with Indigenous law and pedagogy.  All of that was layered in the feather beading project. She explained what she learn from working with the importance of the feather as a sign of law itself. So in some of these projects, when you look at them, there are pieces of text that accompany them, that not only  explain the work, but take up the processes through which a person learns through engagement with a project.

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A Mask, and memories of teachings

GC: We could take the whole time just talking about this next table of objects.  You can see as you look that there is a question about whether the piece you create makes the argument in and of itself. Not all of them have to be accompanied by something that explains it. And that is part of the assignment; part of how we are training students to be legal advocates. If it doesn’t stand alone, then maybe you should have chosen a different medium in order to make your argument. It is not just about doing art. It is about choosing the right medium for your message. This mask, for example, was accompanied with a text of teachings that the student who is Metis had given for her niece.  One part of the project was this mask conveying the effects of family law on a Metis person. The other part of the project was a teaching that was tape recorded, and then given given to the student’s niece. So I don’t have that piece of the project. So some of these objects are partial works, partial works of incredible work.

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The hidden costs of fast fashion

RJ: The next object is a modified dress.  This dress is an example of something that might make its argument through performance. The dress came in a lovely bag with tissue around it, leaving me to perform the pleasures of unwrapping a beautiful new dress. It included the tag at the underarm of the dress, suggesting it had been marked down to only $3.00.   There was also a booklet (with a barcode on the front) asking how much discount fashion was worth. The reverse side of the booklet tells you the actual cost of the dress: 12 hours of labour and $65 worth of materials.  It also invites you to turn the dress inside out to see the hidden costs of the fast fashion industry.  There, you encounter a mass of tags, each of which speaks to the hidden costs, including the production of super weeds, the cost of suicide, poorly made clothing, increasing anxiety and depression, temporary labour, it goes on and on with all of the hidden costs. On the inside of the booklet are reproductions of the tags, along with footnotes to where the person found citations about these ideas. You should absolutely go closer and take a look underneath. Seriously.  Take the dress and turn the skirt up and you will see what are the hidden costs of fast fashion.  So here you see the argument being explained and performed in a fashion that nicely matches the work, though certainly everything here is something people already know. But there is the act of  pulling a dress up out of a bag and turning it inside out to see its hidden costs that punches the argument, that makes it hard to unsee once a person has seen it.

An argument in the form of adornment

Our curator also paired the dress with a second project: the necklace you see on the mannequin.   She thought it worth putting the two projects into conversation.  It is a necklace called The Golden Cage.  It is a piece of jewelry, with the flowers of the community garden trying to emerge  but being constrained by the shell of the structure that impedes movement. The student was grappling with the challenge of whether we make change with individual action or whether individual actions are inadequate to help us untangle the structures that hold us in the same place. So again, performing that kind of tension of the argument in the piece of jewellery itself is a project.

Painting the argument

GC: One other category that we have is visual arts.   You can see three projects here on the board: one in family law, one in constitutional law and one in business associations.  All three paintings are asking different questions. Again, there are stories behind each one, and each merits a long conversation.  Let me chose the middle painting.  This was was a 10% assignment in Constitutional Law where the students were asked to go to a community event (it could be a talk at the law school or something at home) and then write about how they saw the Canadian Constitution reflected in that event. How could they draw a connection between the event in their community and Canadian Constitutional Law?

A painting as a reminder of ceremony

This student did a painting about a disconnect in her life as an Iranian person living in Canada, participating in a traditional ceremony.  The painting was accompanied by food, and some writing.  The three items together were the means through which to not only engage with the constitutional questions that exist for immigrants to Canada, but to document and overcome some of the similar challenges of being at law school.

Lawyers on Stage, and the Coffee-Pod Tower

GC: Let me add that, in my courses, when students turn to the visual, or to popular culture for a project, I require them to engage with literature on the image and law, or popular culture and law, in order to be able to justify why they are using any particular form to make the argument. And I will say briefly, I am not an artist. I cannot paint myself out of a bag.  But it is possible to develop the ability to evaluate the work of others at translating an argument into another form.   It is a challenge to develop the courage and ability to evaluate a different kind of work, to measure it  against something that I can more easily mark (like a thesis or a 40 page paper with footnotes). So, that has been a learning journey about how to offer critical feedback.  In the process of doing this project pedagogy event this week, I have gone back to some of the comments I offered the students when I originally handed back their work. It is interesting for me to have some distance to see my ability to offer them critical feedback. Not every project in this room got a great mark out of 100 because not all of them achieved their goals. But at the same time I know that the projects included a different form of learning, and for many of these students, deep learning.

Family photos

Sara Ramshaw (SR): This is also a project by an Canadian-Iranian student, this time for Family Law. We take for granted the idea of adoption as being a joyous occasion. Judges often say that adoption ceremonies are the most/only pleasurable thing about Family Law. In Iranian culture, though, there is a stigma against adoption, as it marks the inability to give birth to one’s own children. The student was trying to portray this. If I remember correctly,  her sister and brother-in-law were visiting her and they had a child who had been adopted. She had them act out the various struggles, anguish and joy that comes with International adoption to create a photo essay, which included a brochure evidencing her research and bibliography.

The project as it arrived, wrapped in paper

RJ: On the visuals, let me just a point over to this corner for a moment, where you see a painting covered with brown paper. This project arrived totally wrapped in brown paper.  It also arrived with a pair of scissors in an envelop, and the dare (written on the brown paper) to see if I was brave enough to “break down the blinders”. I was left with the question about how to open the project.  What was I to do with the scissors?

Blinders partially removed

This brown paper seemed a piece of the work, itself. But the question was, do I have the ability to break down the blinders and the courage and the ingenuity to emerge and reveal what is behind it?   So I did start with the question, what would I cut out? How would I do the cut?  I cut out four different sections of the wheel/pie, before I finally I couldn’t stand the suspense (or the cutting!) and I took one side of the paper off so I could see this beautiful haunting work that is behind it.

The image behind the paper

I was left with many questions.  At what point do I make the whole thing visible? Do I cover it back up for other viewers to take off their blinders? What is the relationship between me and those who come after. So when we put this up in the gallery, I placed the brown paper with the outer cover folded down so that the painting can be revealed.  Almost everyday the week, I walk into the space and see that someone has been worried that it has fallen down and then has placed it back up.  I do love seeing which way people think the paper should lie (or even if they try to look beneath.  It raises the question.  What  is the relationship that is going on between art/projects and ourselves?  When do we think it is done? How does art invite us to interact with it? Is looking behind the brown paper cheating? I worried about that. Is that kind of cheating to be celebrated as a pleasurable act? And offered to others?

Listening to the music of law…

SR: In the witness box we are invited to listen to student compositions and songs relating to a particular legal issue. I have two Family Law examples here. One is entitled “The Music of Change: The Shifting Face of Marriage”. It is a piano composition, and the student explains what the movements meant to him. Even though I work with improvising musicians, I would not have known exactly what was going on and so I needed this explanation as to the choice of notes and how it related to this particular project. It was written in 3 movements. The liner notes provide the context and research.  Another project for Family Law was called “ReDesign”, again explaining the changing face of marriage. This particular student wrote the lyrics and music to a song played on the guitar and wanted to remain anonymous because they weren’t happy with their singing voice. So I have taken out the attribution of this, but I think the lyrics speak for themselves. Rebecca, do you want to speak to the Business Associations music projects?

collaborative exploration of socially responsible investing

RJ: Sure.  One thing to note is that projects often involve collaboration.  For one of the musical projects in this exhibition, four students worked together to create an album of songs with lyrics that would show what it would look like if you imagined a sole proprietor, what it would look like if you imagined working in a partnership, or in a coop or in a corporation. So they are trying to musically map out four versions of the song that met what they would be thinking about in terms of the structure.  They also worked together through different instruments to produce the four songs.  In their small reflection that accompanied the music, they spoke about what it meant to have the space where they worked as people who had prior musical backgrounds together to try to produce something as a group. So the work of music? You can listen to it. Occupy the witness box. Think about what it means to witness through music, to listen to these tapes. But then to think again about what it means to have something we write down and enscribe and it exists in performance and it exists in collaboration. So there is so much learning for the students and for us as we are thinking about what it means to think about law through music, not only through the lens of intellectual property, but also through the lens of performance and law.

Law built up through small stitches?

GC: Our curator, Lorinda Fraser, made some conscious choices about how to transform this Dispute Resolution Room, so that what happens here makes us think differently about how we engage with law. This room looks very much like a courtroom. So, to have the person in the witness box have the head phones on and be listening — that is an interesting transformation about what we usually think about when we have people in the witness box. As well, I have had music turned into me in classes and when people explain the music or explain the movements, one thing I have appreciated is their efforts to try to do it within the genre of what they are doing. For example, a student handed in album liner notes, including the textual, but in a way that fit wit the medium.

Stitiching old & new laws into re-engagment?

I would also say that one of the challenges of doing this work has been expectations of people or judgements in some ways that giving people the chance to do a project is a really easy “A”.   You know, “hand in a cake to Professor Calder and you will get an A.” There are people that believe projects are simple, or that they do not involve research work.  Certainly, it is easy to tell in a paper if the person hasn’t done the depth of research that they needed to do to make the argument or consider the argument. But this is also true for projects.   It is a challenge to think about how to measure some of these things across different formats.  Some of these projects are extraordinarily elaborate.  But with a paper, we might limit a student to, for instance, no more than 10 pages; we say, “you are going to lose five marks for every page over the limit”.  What kinds of limits, then, do we imagine for projects, to limit what they require of both students, and teachers?  There are programmatic questions one might ask about how are we seeing the connections between different ways of answering questions, and enabling people to do this kind of work.

Different resource books for judges?

RJ: The difference between worrying about the evaluation component and worrying about the deep learning component is a concern. They might not always match up. People have talked about this in academia for many years. Where to put our energy?

Let us talk about the judges’ bench since we are so close to it. At the front where the judges would ordinarily be sitting we have a variety of books to think about what resources, what texts judges might draw on as they think about justice and judgement.IMG_20181217_132139 At one corner we have placed 4 different book projects.  One is a brightly coloured paper bag book: the  student stapled together paper bags and then produced a book engaging with the economy. Each of the paper bags has in it a pull-out, handout, and each of these responds to the questions that were raised in the assigned book for the course.  Each page provides another way to tell the story of the economy and how it might look different.  There is yet another book at the front you may wish to explore: a small coil bound book of poetry. It contains preambular and definitions sections, as well as poems for different forms of business.  As you might imagine, the poems for partnership come out in the form of couplets. And the poem for the sole proprietor folds out to extend beyond the range of the pages, marking how that form is unbounded by any formal choices. They can go on as long as they want. There are poems for Corporations, and for Cooperatives, along with poetic discussion of such things as font choices.

words and images to re-frame the economies of farming

Some times, students hand in books with the feel of a coffee-table book, or a photo essay.  Here is one by a student who engaged with their own family farm to think about what they learned through a series of photo commentary. You will also see a Trans-Zine (submitted in Criminal Law), done by the same student who did the trans-man project we began with.   The books capture multiple forms – children’s books, colouring books, found object books. You will see many forms in which the book can be thought of as a resource for other people: books as resources.

writing across the genres

SR:  Another project from Family Law is a play script by one of the students who also acted in this year’s Lawyers on Stage Theatre production of Treasure Island. Basically, the student looked at the changing ideas of family and gender diversity at three points in time: 1970, 2015 and 2050. She was working towards the time in the future where diversity in family forms and gender identity would be taken for granted. We also have a children’s book. The narrative is quite simple, but the student did a lot of research around law and children’s literature, especially Des Manderson’s work, about how literature teaches children law and norms from an early age. In this book, she not only performs how law is taught to children, but theorizes it in her performance. And another is a short story called “The Prenuptial Agreement”. The genre taught me so much more about what the issues are in relation to the prenuptial agreement that the student was trying to work through.  One of the works that is not here is an epic poem written about a case of which many of you may know, a blood transfusion case of a Jehovah’s Witness child. I have read this case and ones like it many times. This particular student wrote about it from the perspective of the child and put it into poetic verse. By the end I was bawling my eyes out. The poem brought so much more insight to this case than I could ever imagine, because it made me feel it in my body, as did “The Prenuptial Agreement” — I could physically feel the dilemmas. Thus, I am learning as much from the projects as the students are.

Two-Spirit engagements with law

GC: There is a full sized figure that was handed in for Sexual Orientation class. It is the creation of an Indigenous student who has a partner who is is a trans-man. The figure represents the various ways she is living the life of a two-spirited person. Both the front and the back are meant to be seen and draws on different notions of what it means to be present in such a body. I have this figure in my office. I take it with me to presentations where I am talking to others of my colleagues about the transformative role projects can play in the teaching and learning of law. Teachers from the art school were just enamoured by this work.  The figure is presented as looking out the window of this room so that everyone who is passing by and looks through that window can see her.

GC:  Thank you for your questions. We love your intimate engagement. Thanks to those who have done work in this room this week: to Sara whose energy has been extra-ordinary; to Lorinda for her curatorial eye; to all of the students whose bravery has taken up these genres, paper writing and projects.

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Dancing in Collaboration with witnesses

SR: I would like to add one thing about bravery.  I want to speak about law student Kristen Lewis’s dance performance, which has been caught on the screen behind you. Talk about brave. Kristen danced her Family Law assignment in front of her family law class.  Danced.  In front of her fellow students who didn’t quite know how to take a performance like this. As the backdrop to her dance, she had Bikers Against Child Abuse come to the class and stand at the front of the class with their faces against the blackboard for 20 minutes. And she also produced explanations about her performance on paper. Kristen is here today. Would you like to say something about your experience, Kristen?

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Bikers Against Child Abuse deepen the dance

Kristen Lewis (the Dancer): I will say that just the opportunity to do something other than just write a paper helps me to understand how Family Law impacts children. And it helped me to understand how Family Law impacts my own body. I believe this will make me, as a Family Law lawyer, able to see some new possibilities for others. When I read child protection cases, I noticed the gestures that would come up in my body as I read them. In my first year of law school, when I started to get sad as I read cases, I would just compartmentalize the work. When it came to family law, I would just get very sad. I would take 5 minutes to cry and then go back to the case and read again. So instead of pathologizing my emotional reactions to the cases I decided that I would use body gestures to amplify the reactions I have to the material in the cases. And that helped me get stronger. It is not like I want to be able to handle some of the things that the body is not built to handle: the horror of these cases. To be able to handle those things would become problematic. But dancing gave me the strength so that instead of being numb or just crying on the floor, I could practise having this fluid movement with my body that would let me see a lot more into family law cases. I don’t think that end product would have been possible without the dance. Nor even going down to Starbucks late at night to meet Bikers against Child Abuse and that actual interaction with the people there is really what law is made out of. So I loved the opportunity for this project and feel grateful to Sara Ramshaw and also grateful for all the people in the law school who make this theorizing this kind of thing possible. We aren’t shunned. So to have a theoretical basis and an understanding of this work, it makes me glad that I choose UVic for a law school.

‘Tabling’ some questions

RJ:  In closing, let us say again, that we have  been nourished by the work we have seen today and we too, are so grateful for the context of a law school that makes it possible for us to do this without us being seen as radical or on the edge, but just as part of the work of thinking about pedagogy.  Thank you for joining us.

Grief, Protest and Witnessing – Reflections on the Deaths of Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine

A storm.  That has been what it has felt like the past few weeks.  A storm.   So… three fragmentary tellings of grief, protest and witnessing, each coming from the spot of asking “In the context of the contemporary moment, thinking about Truth and Reconciliation, what’s a law professor to DO?!”

Vignette #1

February 9, 2018, a Friday night, I was at the local public library, giving a talk on the TRC Calls to Action.  From 7pm til 8:30pm, I hung out with people from the community, talking about colonial history, and the impacts of residential schools, discussing specific Calls and asking about concrete steps people might take to change the world.  I was torn between asking what kind of a weirdo i was (seriously?! happily spending my Friday night in a library?!), and being filled with joy at the experience of spending time with other such ‘weirdos’.  I had the chance to listen to and learn from people in the community taking active steps towards reconciliation.  I left feeling empowered and hopeful.

Grieving in Victoria [Photo by Kym Hines]
And then I got home, and read that the jury in Saskatchewan acquitted Gerald Stanley in the killing of Coulten Boushie.

And I broke.

Over 20 years of teaching criminal law.  I should have been prepared.  I have been teaching for years using the Abell, Sheehy and Bakht text on criminal law.  It is without a doubt the most ‘accurate’ text book out there in terms of situating Canadian Criminal Law in a history of colonization, racism and class, with attention to gender.  I have been teaching about the place of criminal law in the displacement and dispossession of indigenous peoples through its outlawing of indigenous systems of governance and legal order (ie through bans on the potlatch or sundance), and through early ‘murder’ trials (and the wrongful execution of the Tsilhqo’tin Chiefs).  Students have learned about the Donald Marshall Inquiry, the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry, the Royal Commission on Indigenous Peoples, about study after study after study confirming systems of racism and colonialism operating in policing, in bail, in trial procedure, in sentencing, in prisons.

photo by Kym Hines

And here it was again.  Still.  The same as ever.  A jury concluded that Gerald Stanley, who shot Colten Boushie in the back of the head as he sat in a car, was not guilty.  My heart cracked open.

Saturday morning, I headed to downtown Victoria, to stand on the streets with others.  I couldn’t think of what else to do.  I just needed to be in a place where I could be around others who might have felt the way I did.  The grief just felt too big to carry alone.  I drove down alone, but stood there with others.  I brought my drum.  I listened to some words.  I listened to some songs.  I looked up to the sky with the rest of the crowd, as we paused to watched the hummingbird that joined us… hovering high over the group for a full minute, as if wondering what had brought us there.

photo by Kym Hines

Others had come prepared with signs.   And as the crowd dispersed, many of them affixed their messages to the courthouse doors.  But I had come empty handed.  Not quite.  I knew my Annotated Criminal Code was still in my car (I had taken it to the TRC talk at the library the night before).

photo by Kym Hines

And so, with my heart exploding in my chest, I ran back to my car to get the Code, and opened it to section 634 (the section enabling “peremptory challenges” – which enables either Crown or Defence, without explanation or justification, to reject from the jury anyone who might look Indigenous).

In a moment of ‘losing my noggin’ (as my dad would have said)  I ripped the page out of my Criminal Code.  I circled section 634,  scrawled “Injustice” across the top of the page, included my name (it felt wrong to have my critique be anonymous) , and added it to the messages taped to the Courthouse Door.


I now had a Criminal Code that was one page lighter.

But my heart didn’t feel similar.

Vignette #2


Life’s a rollercoaster.

On February 21, there is the announcement:  the BC Government is going to provide funding for UVic to offer what will be the first program of its kind in the world, the JD/JID – a joint degree program in Canadian Common Law and Indigenous Legal Orders.  More than a decade of laying the groundwork (indeed, 150 years of laying the groundwork?), and it finally will go ahead.  Euphoria!  Nothing less.

But the next morning, the news reports that the jury in Manitoba acquitted Raymond Cormier in the killing of Tina Fontaine.



Like last time, I hear that people will gather on the weekend in downtown Victoria, and will march.  This time I don’t join.  Instead, I head across town to pre-tape a short interview for CHEK news about both cases.   I speak as a Law Professor/’expert’ about the most recent opinion polls on Justice, speak about the data in what I hope is a rational and descriptive fashion.  The interview ends early enough that the anchor tells me I can probably still make it in time to join the end of the march.  I head out to my car, but don’t drive to rally.  This time, I feel hollow.  I don’t feel like I could bear being at the march.  Instead,  I sit alone in my car for 15 minutes after the interview, gathering the pieces of myself back together, and then drive home.

IMG_20180226_082559.jpgMonday morning, I walk in to school.  Early.  Way too early.  But as I approach, I can see a few people standing around the entry, talking.  I notice that there is ‘grafitti’ on the ground.  Someone says “Do you know anything about this?”  Not recognizing the speaker, and not sure what the “this” means, I look more carefully at the ground, and see, written in chalk,  “25.2% of men in prison are Indigenous, 36.1% are women”.  I say (in the voice of someone delighted to say that they already knew the answer), “Yes!   That is true!  Someone knows their data!”

At this point, looking more closely around me, I realize the person is not asking me about the CONTENT of the particular message, but about the words that are scrawled in different colours of chalk all around the entrance.

IMG_20180226_082627.jpgI realize they are asking me if I know WHO is responsible for the cascade of words marking the entrance to the law school.  Indeed, all three paths have been marked up, so one cannot enter the law school without walking across the words of truth and protest.  I see phrases like “No Justice – No Reconciliation”, “MMIWG”  and the names of Colten Boushie, Tina Fontaine, Cindy Gladue, Neil Stonechild, Helen Betty Osborne, Paul Alphonse, and more.

IMG_20180226_082652.jpgNow I finally get what I am being asked.  WHOSE protest is inscribed on the ground around us?  I tell the person on the sidewalk beside me that I do not know, but that I suspect it might be our students.  Indeed, I have been wondering if any of our faculty had joined in the march on the weekend.  Certainly, I have been carrying a bit of guilt about my own decision to stay home, and have been wondering if the students were there, and if so, if they felt unsupported by us.  I look at the words written around me, and say, “Well, if I were to make a guess, I imagine it might be our students, and that they might be bringing the protest back from the streets to the law school, where it belongs!  Good for them!  I am taking some photos of THIS!”

IMG_20180226_175747.jpgAnd so, I whip out my camera, and filled with a strange sense of joy at the activism (of what I am only guessing might be our [Indigenous?] law students), I start taking photos, focused mostly on trying to get the right angle to capture the feeling of the words around me.  Taking the photos is tricky, because I don’t want to step on the names that are written there.  And so I step carefully, trying to find a path through un-inscribed concrete.

As I open the door to enter the law school, camera in hand, I notice that there also appear to be posters up on the walls just waiting for their photo-moment.  I walk in, excited to talk to someone about this amazing piece of activism, and I am stopped in my tracks.

Stopped cold.

Because now I KNOW who is responsible. Yes.  It is our Indigenous law students.  There they are, putting the finishing touches on their protest, attaching the last few signs to the wall.  But there will be no conversation.

They have covered their mouths with duct tape.  They sit on the stairs in silence.  They offer no words.  They offer their silence.  I am silenced in return.    IMG_20180226_082802

That momentary feeling of joy is punched right out of my lungs to be replaced by a deep ache.  I consider for a moment whether I should sit on the stairs beside them.  I want to sit in solidarity.  But their silent/silenced bodies seem to be too powerful a message.   I ask if I may have permission to take their photo.  I am offered a silent nod in return. I aim and click.   I raise my hands to them, wanting to honour their bravery and their grief.  I walk past them up the stairs to my office, close the door behind me, and weep.

Vignette #3

March 14, 2018.  A strange and powerful mixture.  There is the euphoria about the path opening ahead to do trans-sytemmic education focused on pulling Canadian and Indigenous Legal Orders into engagement in a reciprocal way.  At the same time, there is the ongoing brutality of confronting the institutionalized racism, sexism, and colonialism running through the justice system.  Two weeks later, and students still seem raw.   No surprise.  I am still raw.  I hear story after story of the challenge of finding spaces in which one can catch their breath from what feels like an onslaught of conversation, some of it helpful, much of it not.  Stories of words not spoken, of friendships challenged, of relations ruptured, of new possibilities imagined. How to grapple with grief, protest, and witnessing?

Photograph By CHAD HIPOLITO, The Canadian Press.

The Indigenous Law Students organize a ‘Walkout” to make visible the injustices in the Canadian legal system for Indigenous people. Three hundred students, staff, faculty and community members join in.

Again, the question of whether to march or not, to join or stand apart, to speak or remain silent.   This time I  join. The decision is made easier since the march takes place during an open spot in my schedule.  I know that I would not have cancelled a class if there had been a conflict (though I would have been perfectly happy to have students exercise their choice in either direction).  I don’t think there is a ‘right answer’, or any particular way one can/should/might choose to respond to this particular moment.

On this occasion, I make the choice that I do.  And so again, I find myself in a group, standing with others, another moment to both share and witness the grief of these times and this place. The smell of sage (which they are burning) adds the scent of ceremony, of ritual, of cleansing.  And this time, there is movement.  We walk around the ring road.  And the students seem to take walking quite seriously.  Their energy is real (and a bit ‘healthier’ than mine!).  They walk at a much faster pace than I expect. Indeed, I have to really step up my game to keep up.  But the movement feels good.  And the skies are clear and blue.  The flowers have already begun to appear, and the air feels good in my lungs.   I return to the law school feeling somehow lighter than i felt at the beginning of the march.

And that, of course, is just one day.  When I get home that night, reporting on my day, there are conversations with family.  What does it mean to ‘walk out’?  Or to ‘walk in’?  What does it mean to ‘protest’?  What does it mean to march?   What does it mean to choose NOT to walkout?  NOT to march?  NOT to protest?  Who (if anyone) do I think will be changed by such actions?  Indeed, WHO is the audience for such an action?

Good questions.  I have no answers.  I know I have felt both the desire to stand with others, and the desire to be alone with my grief.  I have sometimes felt it important that my voice be heard, and have at other times felt it was my obligation to be silent.  To stand as a witness.  Or to acknowledge that, as a professor of law, I am complicit.  This, I grieve.  I do know that my grief has been real, and that it has been hard to find a place for it to live, to be expressed, to be seen, to be witnessed.  What is there to do, but take the moments as they come?  To remain in relationship with those around me?  To take those moments to acknowledge that we are entangled in relations that draw on the best and the worst of who we are, of who we wish to be.  We are entangled in relations of power, and thus will feel differently the calls to do what we can to see differently, to hear differently, to walk differently and to build differently.

Keep moving.

Thinking about “The Law of Evidence” through the Structure of Indigenous Language

My new favourite book

With classes nearly over this term, I happily turned to my “Books to Read!” pile.   At the top of the pile was a new book by Marianne Ignace and Ron Ignace, Secwépemc People, Land and Laws (McGill-Queen’s Press, 2017).

So many of the summers of my life have been spent on the shores of the Shuswap Lake. The smell of the forests, the feel of the winds, sound of the water, the taste of thimbleberries… all that has been imprinted deep in my heart.  I had been looking forward to spending some time with this book, to continue to learn about the history of the land, the people, and the laws of this place that I so love.  I am only into the 4th chapter, but I am not disappointed.  I can already see that this is going to be a book I will be carrying around with me.


In line, then, with my new goal for myself (to do at least one blogpost a week on what I am learning), let me share one of the amazing things I learned today from the this book.  I learned that the Secwepemc Language is an amazing resource for learning about law!  I finished reading Chapter 4 (“Secwepemctsin: The Shuswap Language”) this afternoon, and then spent the next hour walking up and down the halls of the law school, hunting down colleague after colleague to make them listen to what I had learned (Val, Pooja, Jess, Simon, Tim, and Bob have got to hear my enthusiasm first hand!).


The big discovery for me (on p. 138 of the book) was something called “Evidentials”.  This is a form of suffix that does not exist in English grammar.   In Secwepemctsin, as I understand it from the chapter, a suffix can attach to a verb, in a way that lets the speaker tell the listener about the evidentiary support for the statement.  That is, it indicates how the speaker comes to know the truth of the statement:

  1.  from first hand knowledge,
  2. from hearsay (what others have said), or
  3. because there is physical evidence of the action.

In short, as the Ignaces point out here, when people are telling each other about things that happen in the world, they are also sharing information about the evidence that exists for the statements made.

Page 138

Of course, we can share information about evidentiary support in the English language: it is just a matter of adding more detail.  And when it comes to legal action, those evidential details matter a lot: if you appear as a witness in  a common-law court, you will be asked how it is you come to know what you know; the presence of physical evidence to support the claim is alway relevant; there are all sorts of rules to govern hearsay evidence.  That is, there is much to explore around evidentiary rules related to the relevance, credibility, reliability and sources of statements.

But there is something so interesting in how such questions are organized in Secwepemctsin in part through grammar.  Questions of evidence seem to be woven into the structure of speech and thought (rather than being separate questions emerging primarily in the context of formal legal settings.)  An orientation towards evidence is embedded in grammar itself.

What is so beautiful to me (or do I just mean mean ‘surprising’?)  is that the structure of Secwepemctsin itself, as a language, orients itself towards transparency in the  practices of validating knowledge.  Grammatically, people tell each other not only what they know, but HOW they know it.  This means speakers are grammatically required to make (suffix based) choices about the actions they describe, and listeners have the capacity to make choices about further inquiries needed on the basis of what they hear. Given suffixes, they can determine whether to seek further information from others, or to validate information by looking to physical traces to support what they have heard.  Certainly, this requires speakers and listeners to engage their own faculties of reasoning in conversation, by reminding them that all statements have an evidentiary status of some sort.  This is such a sophisticated and nuanced structure of thought.   I have been reading a number of Secwepemc stories in English, and I have a new appreciation for the ways that that the stories, in their original language, would be carrying additional information and nuance.

I also think that the book, with its discussion of Evidential Suffixes, is a wonderful way to draw insights from Indigenous Language and Indigenous Law into the Evidence Law classroom!  Can’t wait to learn more from what Marianne Ignace and Ron Ignace have brought together in this book!



Reconciliation Necklaces

During the summer of 2015, I spent my time thinking about the Report of the TRC (The Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Residential Schools).  I was particularly obsessed with its 94 Calls to Action.  I found myself thinking a lot about Recommendation #50, which argued for the creation and funding of Indigenous Law Institutes:

  1. 50. In keeping with the United Nations Declaration on
    the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, we call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal organizations, to fund the establishment of Indigenous law institutes for the development, use, and understanding of Indigenous laws and access to justice in accordance with the unique cultures of Aboriginal peoples in Canada.

Some may not think this call speaks directly to ordinary citizens, but it really did speak to me.

I work at a law school (University of Victoria) that has already established just such an institute (the Indigenous Law Research Unit).

The ILRU has been doing exceptional work over the past years, working with and alongside Indigenous communities, focused on the issues, processes and traditions important to those communities.

The work of the ILRU, including the work on the graphic novel Mikomosis and the Wetiko, (click here to link to the teaching guide) has been a central part of my own intellectual and political life over the past years.

And of course, there is always more work to do than time or money to do it with.

And so I had been thinking of a way to make the TRC call #50 ‘my own’.

Were there ways that, though perhaps not called to direct action, individuals could support Indigenous Law Institutes?  Count I do that by committing myself to speaking about this need? Of could find ways to make visible all 94 calls, and particularly the need to fund structures for the development, use and understanding of Indigenous Laws?  To think with and using Indigenous Laws?

Shuswap Lake – the view from the pottery wheel

So… this summer, I decided to take my usual summer vacation (making  stoneware necklaces to give away for my September birthday), and spend my time making pendants invested with my own hopes for energy and resources for the work of the ILRU.

Thus, during the summer, I spent my vacation in OCD mode, making necklaces to give away in a project of asking people to THINK about ways they could support the energy of reconciliation.

PLACE:  I  made the necklaces in Secwepemc Territory (Shuswap).  My family lives there, and I have spent nearly every summer of my life there, surrounded by aunts, uncles, and cousins.  My heart lives there.    My aunt bought a kiln and wheel several years back, and they invite us to play with clay under the deck (sheltered from the sun).  So I made these necklaces while sitting under the deck, watching beauty of the land around.

MATERIALITY: Depending on the batch, the clay was one of these:  CKK6, Klamath Red, Midnight Black, Dove, Polar Ice.  It is stoneware, or porcelain and was fired to Cone 6.

Unloading the kiln


The process this summer took me in a number of directions.  But in brief,  I played with a number of oxides and stains this summer, and mixed them into the clay.  I then wedged the plain and coloured clays together.  I then shaped the individual pieces (rib tools, modelling tools, carving tools, etc), played around with them at the leather hard stage, then got them dried to greenware.

At that point, I loaded them into the kiln for a first bisque firing (cone 04, aka 1060 celsius) [basically, a day to get the kiln loaded, fired, cooled and unloaded again).]

At the next stage, I played around.  Here is where i glazed, used wax resist, glass and rocks!  Then, it was back into the kiln for a second firing (up to cone 6, aka 1222 celsius).

eb802-img_20150815_140533And last but not least, I took the kids to the Salmon Arm Roots & Blues Festival, where we sat listening to music and tying chords for the necklaces.

And… just for more background, here are some comments/thoughts on the different kinds of necklaces that were produced, and how (in my own mind) they linked to the work of the TRC.
“HISTORY RETHOUGHT – Contact of Laws”

I began with two balls of clay.  To one of them i added an oxide or a s
tain (a dry powder), and then wedged it in until the second ball was a different colour.  I then sliced each clay, and layered them together.  I then wedged the clay and cut and relayered it, so that they were mixed, but not blended (ie. the goal was not to fully ‘assimilate’ so that the entire ball was a new mixed shade, but to let the two colours move with and against each other.)

After letting the clay firm up a bit, I tried cutting pieces apart.  It was a challenge to do so in a way that didn’t blur the distinctions between the two colours.  I was struck during the process by the ways the patterns changed even from one side of the slice to the other (let alone the differences between slices separated by several pieces).  I know it is perhaps mundane, but I spent a lot of time while doing this thinking also about how the experiences of people [in the context of our shared history of colonialism] can be so vastly different, and yet still  ‘true’.

From a ‘technical’ point of view, it was also the first time i have really used stains or oxides in this way.  I could see how much learning there is in simply figuring  out how much of which colour to use in each ball, and then what happens if have more of one colour or the other as I am mixing them together? (ie. how much ‘white’ is just ‘too much white’) [my first attempt with white and pink really did overwhelm the pink…you can see it, but you have to look really hard to do so]


After I had tried working with two colours of clay, I decided I might as well up the ante.

Since my own politics suggests that things are rarely lived in a binary fashion (black and white; yes and no; left or right), it might be interesting to explore a more ‘multi’ approach to the clay.


In this series, i decided to work not just with two colours of clay, but with two different formulations: clay and glass.

They are, I suppose, similar in some ways:  both contain silica, and the higher the temperature travelled by the clay, the more ‘glass-like’ it becomes.

Of course, i am aware of the limits of my science knowledge.  That has been one of the pleasures of playing with sand and heat.

In any event, for these pieces, i began with a clay base, and carved out some holes/trenches in the clay at the leather hard phase (if you wait too long, you break the piece as it is drying).

My wonderful aunt Janet had taken a stained glass class as some point, and had bought a big box of coloured glass.

47d8f-img_20150814_130507And so I broke off pieces (started by trying to use a glass cutter, ended by using a hammer [and safety glasses]) and then arranged them inside the grooves, hoping to figure out how much was not enough or too much.

In a previous year, I went overboard, and ended up fusing the pieces to the kiln shelf.  At the end of the day, I ended up with a number of piece that worked.

  • Made 49 in polar ice white, using largely blue and green glass
  • made 14 in Buff stone clay, assorted glass
  • Made 20 “NDP” necklaces (‘orange’ glass)
  • Made 40 in Klamath Red clay with assorted colours
  • Made 2 with Midnight Black clay

Well… Perhaps more accurate to say I did try to make a batch of 40 with Midnight Black Clay.  But only 2 survived.  Here is where I learned that the black clay and glass do not interact well with each other.  Too much of something similar in each of them, and the glass, instead of melting beautifully, turned into dangerous shards.

Well… those 50 necklaces returned to the earth, but I learned some stuff along the way about the ways that two beautiful things may not be beautiful if they are made to work together without some real skill!

(I am sure there is a Dene story that carries knowledge about the challenges of two powerful brothers [Yamoria and Yamozah] who at one point were in too close of proximity to each other, and the care that needed to be taken to minimize risks of damage to everyone around them).  I thought about that story when thinking about the challenges of so much power in two pieces, interacting in a less than helpful way (and maybe too much ‘heat’?)


For these, I carved out the pieces (like a mini sarcophagus) of clay (the same way i did for the ‘glass’ series.

After the pieces were bisque fired, I put a small amount of glaze in the carved out space, and then set in small stones collected while sitting on the edge of the water at the end of the day (watching the sunset, while letting the water wash of the day’s pottery dust).

I fired these flat, so that the glaze would simply hold the rocks in place (and so i would not have to put wax resist on the bottoms)


After rolling some clay flat, I took part of a cedar branch from one of the trees to the side of the house.

I then pressed them into the clay, and left it to dry.

During the bisque firing, the branch burned away, leaving the imprint of its having been there.

For the second firing, I painted wax resist into the shape of the cedar, and then covered the rest of the piece in glaze.

These pieces had to be hung on a bead wire for the second firing.

BRUSH WORK – set of 7

After wax resist in the hole, I used an oxide and water, and then a paint brush to put the image down on the bisqued pieces.

Then simply a white glaze over top.

They were hung on a bead wire for the second firing (cone 6).  I wished I had done more.

The Non-Series Series
This would be ending with where I usually begin: the project of playing with clay, making necklaces to give away for my birthday.
Here are the things that I do when i am in my ‘summer mode’:  that is, thinking about life, teaching, theory/practice, play, and transformation.
So these necklaces are all ones that emerge as I enjoy spending time with my hands, thinking about heat and time (that is, about the capacity of ‘heat’ and ‘time’ to change things)
Some are smooth, some are rough, some symmetrical, some not, some are opportunities to see what happens with different glazes on similar shapes, or different clays interesting with different glazes.
They are occasions for interpretation.
I am often struck (in the process of giving them away) by the things that different people ‘see’ in them.
Meaning exists so much more in the moment of investing the pieces with meaning than it does in the piece itself (which is in many ways little more than the combination of mud, heat, and time… but maybe that is also true for all of us?)