#ReconciliationSyllabus – Finding Resources close to my Shuswap (Secwepmc) home…

TRC Recommendation #28 says:

We call upon law schools in Canada to require all law students to take a course in Aboriginal people and the law, which includes the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations. This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.

I have been thinking about how to develop curriculum that addresThe view from my mom's Shuswap homeses this recommendation, and in doing so, have been thinking about how to make this recommendation more ‘personal’.  That is, I have been thinking about ways the recommendation could be rooted in my own sense of “home”.  What would it mean to find resources that speak to my own embedding, as a Settler-Canadian, in these histories?  What would it mean to see MYSELF in this history?  And so, I started to think about resources that are linked to my ‘heart-home’:  the Shuswap Lake.

Here are some pieces I have been thinking might work together as a pod of resources, one which is located in BC (given my location here), and which is located in the Shuswap (Secwepmc territory)  where I spend my summers.

I thought it a good place to start because I have spent so much of my life there, I deeply love the land there, and grew up (like many Settler Canadians) knowing NOTHING of the real history of the place, or of the law of the Secwepmc, or of this history of Setter/Secwepmc interactions.

Partly, I wonder if one way for many of us in law schools to start doing this work is to start it from the place that we are AT.  That is, to try to gather together the resources that might enable us to really teach our students in the spaces that they learn… so they begin to see how the various stories of law are all around them in a very concrete way.

I do not, of course, think that is the ONLY way to approach the work, but I do wonder about the ways the work might feel if we take seriously the ways in which we too (i am presuming a settler ‘we’ here, but am open to conversation on that point) are living on particular places, and might benefit from taking seriously the histories and resources of those places.

And so, here is a first intervention, and I REALLY welcome ideas and feedback about resources, stories, documents that might work together to think about law school curricula linked to Secwepmc territory.

so… a starting place might be basic information about the territory, told from the perspective of current indigenous political communities.  As a starting place, it might involve some attention to using the names indigneous communities use for themselves.  So… if not ‘drop’ the Shuswap, then at least think about also usins Secwepmc (or at least beginning the discussions of naming).  And so, maybe begin with some links to how the communities describe themselves and their lands.  Maybe a link like this?  http://tkemlups.ca/our-land/

Might be useful to start with questions about land and governance.

  • Memorial, to Sir Wilfred Laurier, From the Chiefs of the Shuswap, Okanagan and Couteau Tribes of British Columbia. Presented at Kamloops, B.C. August 25, 1910 


Then, what about histories of residential schools?  In this case, we have a wonderful memorie written by a student who attended the Williams Lake residential school.

  • They-called-me-number-one-250x386 Bev Sellars, They Called Me Number One.

This book came highly recommended by friends.  I just finished it last weekend.  So much in there to talk about and discuss.  Here is a link to a short review of it:


The book is full of material that could link in easily to any number of courses and topics.  It deals with language, parenting, land, education, torts, crime, politics, policing, governance, religion, hope, despair, etc.

There are some very obvious links to mainstream curriculum.  For example, the Principal at the Williams Lake Residential School was Archbishop O’Connor (familiar in the criminal law curriculum with respect to the right of an accused to have access to the private counselling records of a ‘complainant’ in a sexual assault case).   I found it interesting to re-think/teach the story of O’Connor against the context of the work done in Bev Sellar’s memoire.

  •  R v. O’Connor


Another recourse to link in could be this:

  • Report on the Caribou-Chilcotin Justice Inquiry 1993


Here, there is a chance to look at the Report of an Inquiry, and in this case, a fairly short report.  Nicely, Bev Sellars was involved in the Inquiry, so her memoire provides an occasion to ask questions about what does or does not end up in the Report of the Inquiry itself.

  • Links to the present might include exploration of the 2010 BCLA intervention in on-going conflict between RCMP and the Williams Lake Community (which gives an opportunity to explore how contemporary moments of conflict find roots in the deeper histories)


Well… this is just a start.  Would love to hear ideas from others about how these pieces might be pulled together (or substituted with others) in the interests of moving towards TRC2015 Recommendation #28


#ReconciliationSyllabus – Resources for addressing TRC Recommendation #28

It has been a few weeks since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released the executive summary of its report, following on years of gathering information about Canada’s legacy from Indian Residential Schools.  The process of implementing the various calls to action will take many years, and will involve participation from most segments of Canadian society.

Law is, of course, deeply implicated in this history.  Law schools will have an important role to play in the long-term processes of reconciliation.  That is clear in Recommendation #28:

We call upon law schools in Canada to require all law students to take a course in Aboriginal people and the law, which includes the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations. This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.

In a short article reflecting on the implications of this recommendation for Canadian law schools,  Gillian Calder and I said:

And on recommendation 28, we hope law schools across the country will take up the challenge to talk to each other. What educations models have been employed at universities to address the legacies of genocide, and what partnerships have been put in place to engage creatively and rigorously on those questions? What strategies, curricular innovations, and programs have already been put in place to take up the questions of indigenous laws in our multi-juridical country? What have our colleagues tried in their classrooms? What innovative pedagogies have they developed to ensure that the critical questions of colonialism are woven into all courses? http://www.canadianlawyermag.com/5620/TRC-offers-a-window-of-opportunity-for-legal-education.html

And then we got a note from Elin Sigurdson, reflecting on the work being done by the hashtag #CharlestonSyllabus in the US, to help people generate lists of readings or resources for moving forward some US conversations on histories of race and hate.  What about, she asked, TRC Recommendation #28, and the possibility of the hashtag #ReconciliationSyllabus.  Could we imagine that as one avenue for moving us forward with the important conversations about legal education and reconciliation?  Great idea!

We invite our colleagues to start sharing idea, thoughts, texts, comments, etc using the twitter hashtag#ReconciliationSyllabus.  Next step?  To figure out a webplatform to host the results…

Truth & Reconciliation Commission – Calls to Action (…it begins with coloured pens…)

After year of work, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada released its executive summary of its work.  The summary, which every Canadian should read, is 388 pages.  It is quite a document, and people will need to take time to read it.   The TRC also released a much shorter document listing its 94 recommendations — or as they name them, Calls to Action.

The past two weeks, this has been truly my favourite document.  It is also a dense document.  There is SO MUCH in here, that it is easy to get overwhelmed by the text.  In an attempt to read it in a way that works with my own brain, I started reading with coloured pens and pencils, highlighting and circling.

TRC p1-2

Here is what the first two pages of my annotations currently look like.  For a PDF copy of my ‘in-progress’ annotated copy, click here:  call to action – rj annotations

I highly recommend the method.  It is a good way to get some clarity on who is being asked to do what. 

I think there are lots of different ways and colours, but for me, one option was to start with the VERBS.  What i tried to do was separate out the different kinds of verb/actions that were involved.  ie.

  • FUNDING VERBS (tg allocate money or resources or funds to something)
  • LEGISLATING VERBS (make new legislation; repeal or amend; appoint people)
  • MONITORING VERBS (to investigate something to see what is going on)
  • REPORTING VERBS (to give feedback or follow through on actions)
  • PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT VERBS (to develop programs, to train, to educate)
  • SYMBOLIC/RECOGNITION VERBS (apologies, admissions, acknowledgements, statements)

I also started thinking about the WHO, to see what kinds of people were being spoken to in the different recommendations (ie. ‘government’ and “Aboriginal” are terms that are inclusive but may be too big for some purposes.  The recommendations are often quite a bit more specific)

  • Canada
  • The Prime Minister
  • Federal Government
  • Provincial/Territorial Government
  • Municipal Government
  • Aboriginal Government
  • Aboriginal Organizations
  • Aboriginal Peoples
  • Aboriginal Spiritual Leaders

And then, when you get going, you start to see that there are LOTS of groups and people in here: Parties to the Settlement Agreement; Law Societies and Law Schools; Medical and Nursing Schools, health care workers; religious congregations; faith groups; Journalists, Coaches; archivists, interfaith social justice groups.

Further more, if you go through with a yellow highlighter, you can see all the times that the Calls to Action ask people to work together in collaboration.  And there is often specificity regarding WHICH groups should be working together collaboratively on which kinds of activities.  Some of these things need people to work together, and some of them make space for people working alone.

My own advice?  Pick up some crayons and start reading….

(if you want to read a short piece that my friend Gillian Calder and I wrote for Canadian Lawyer magazine on recommendations #27 (the Federation of Law Societies)  and #28 (to Law Schools) click here)

Reflections on the encounter of Lady Justice and Madam Justice

Lady Justice, blindfolded
Lady Justice, eyes wide open...

I will begin with an observation…. one that I take to be self evident: gender has long been implicated in histories of judging.  While women’s inclusion in the judiciary is a relatively recent phenomenon, this does not mean that our history of Justice has been ungendered.  On the contrary, gender has been deeply implicated in both ‘the real’ and ‘the ideal’.  For in these histories, there has long been an allocating of gender between ‘ideas’ and ‘bodies’.  As far as ideas find representation in visual form, Justice has long been captured in the image of “Justicia” — Lady Justice.  She appears to us, sometimes blindfolded, sometimes not, holding out the sword and scales that enable her to judge.

Of course, if the idea of Justice has been captured in the form of a woman, the bodies of actual judges were, until recent times, captured in bodies that were exclusively male.

Lord Denning
Bewigged Male Judges
Classic study of the US Supreme Court

The paintings and photos that have lined the halls of courts and schools of law,  have captured generations of robed and bewigged me.  It only makes sense that the classic study of the judges at the United States Supreme Court could have been titled “The Brethren”.  It was descriptive accurate.

But of course times have begun to change. The brothers have increasingly been joined by their sisters.  On the current Canadian Supreme Court, there are 5 men, and 4 women, one of whom is the Chief Justice.

Canadian Supreme Court

It is worth reminding ourselves that we didn’t arrive at this place of seeming equality through some ‘natural’ form of evolution.  On the contrary, it is tied to the active struggles of our forebearers.  Over the past 100 years, women and those who supported them fought for women’s inclusion in law, not simply as “subjects” of law, but also as active participants in the making of law… as legislators, litigators, and adjudicators. Women struggled for the vote, for the right to attend law schools, to become practicing lawyers, to be elected to government.  These struggles are not so far off in the distant past, but link us to the present day.  When it come to “Lady Justice” (in both senses of the word… a gendered ideal, and female gendered bodies), one might trace a history of ‘firsts’, as women have gradually come to be present as members of the judiciary.


•1916, Emily Murphy, 1st woman police magistrate in the British Empire
•1917, Helen Gregory McGill, 1st woman judge, Vancouver Juvenile Court
•1934, Helen Kinnear, 1st woman superior court judge in British Commonwealth
•1971, Mabel Van Camp, 1st woman appointed to ON Supreme Court
•1971, Claire L’Heureux-Dubé, 1st woman appointed to QC Court of Appeal
•1973, Jean Folster, 1st native woman appointed magistrate, MN
•1975, Agnes Sempler,1st Aboriginal woman Justice of the Peace in NWT
•1976, Rosalie Abella, 1st Jewish woman judge, ON Provincial Court
•1977, Mary Wong, 1st Chinese Canadian woman Citizenship Court Judge
•1982, Bertha Wilson, 1st woman on Supreme Court of Canada
•1987, Corrine Sparks, 1st black woman judge in family court in NS
•1991, Terry Vyse, 1st Aboriginal person on ON Provincial Court
•1992, Catherine Fraser,1st woman chief justice of AB Court of Appeal
•1993, Maryka Omatsu, 1st East Asian woman judge, ON Prov Ct
•1994, Rose Boyko, 1st Aboriginal woman federally appointed superior court judge, ON
•1998, Margaret Larlee, 1st women judge on the NB Court of Appeal
•1999, Juanita Westmoreland-Traoré, 1st black woman judge in QC
•2000, Beverly McLachlin, 1st woman Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Canada

Reading over this list, I found myself remembering a day back in 1982, when my own mother corralled me off to the University of Calgary to listen to a talk by Bertha Wilson, who had just been appointed as the first woman on the Canadian Supreme Court. As a first year music student, I sat in the audience with my mother and sisters, listening to Bertha Wilson speak, trying to re-visualize the image of the male judge so fixed in my own mind.  I don’t remember anything of what Bertha Wilson actually saidthat day, but I do remember sitting there rapt, listening to her lingering Scottish brogue (she was herself an immigrant to Canada), and beginning to imagine that the law might have a place for someone like me… and not just in the ‘juvenile delinquent’ capacity that some of my junior high school teachers feared was likely to be my lot in life!

Justice Bertha Wilson

I found myself reflecting on the very real changes we have had in the judiciary over the course of my own nearly 20 year engagement with the law.  Yes…. the brethren have been joined by some of their sisters.  And it is true that, for women of some communities, we have begun to travel sufficiently far down the path of inclusion that they are not the 1st, but the 5th, 10th, or 20th to arrive in their court.  And this is a leap forward.  It enables us to relieve individual women of the felt obligation to represent ‘all’ — to speak or judge as exemplars of a kind.  With a trail blazed and open, women and men alike are better enabled to do their work in ways that is attentive to the diversity that exists in every community.

But it is worth reminding ourselves that the struggle for representative justice does require that we take seriously the demands of diversity:  it is true that the Canadian Supreme Court now includes women, but it is also a part of our history that all of its judges have been white, and none have been drawn from the many indigenous communities whose roots run so deep in this land.

As always, there is work to be done as we continue with the project of not simply ‘judging’ but also ‘building’ the forms of justice by which we wish to be governed.  The addition of women challenges us to consider the imagery we draw on to imagine “Justice” that reflects the aspirations and desires of men and women alike (with all the diversity offered by race, class, sexual orientation, mother tongue).  It is this that presses back against us as we work at the business of producing a justice attentive to the richness and possibility present in our society.