First Peoples Law is dedicated to defending and advancing Indigenous peoples' Aboriginal title, rights and Treaty rights.
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    Ignorance is not an absence. Ignorance is a force. It justifies. It silences. It perpetuates.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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    Judges decide where the boundaries are. The boundaries between the Canada that was and the Canada that will be. 

     

How the Canadian Legal System Fails Indigenous People

December 17, 2015

By Bruce McIvor

 

 

Clinging to the program
Obviously
Is the obvious lie 
The past is more than a memory 

John Trudell, “What it Means to be a Human Being,” 2001

Law school is the great revealer. It reveals motivation: greed, social justice, couldn’t get into medical school. It reveals ignorance.

Case in point. Sitting in a law school lecture theatre. A law professor is making an earnest effort to convince skeptical students it’s important for future lawyers to know at least a little about the history of the Canadian state’s relationship with Indigenous Peoples. In the front of the room a hand shoots up.

“Yes, do you have a question?“

“Didn’t the Indians kill all the buffalo?”

Years later. On my feet in a courtroom. Facing judges with skeptical faces as I give a quick overview of Badger, Haida and Mikisew to explain how Treaties between the Crown and Indigenous Peoples give rise to a constitutional obligation to consult and accommodate.

A voice from the front interrupts me.

“Mr. McIvor, this treaty you’re talking about, is it part of a statute?”

I’m seldom at a loss for words in court. As every litigator knows, when the moment comes to speak the words tumble out, origin unknown, forming themselves into sentences of varying degrees of coherence.

Not this time. This time I paused. For the judges I faced, and for the government and industry lawyers staring at the back of my head, the pause was likely too short to notice. For me it spanned generations.

Ignorance is not an absence. Ignorance is a force. It justifies. It silences. It perpetuates.

University students become law students. Law students become lawyers. Lawyers become judges. Judges decide.

Judges decide where the boundaries are. The boundaries between the Canada that was and the Canada that will be. To assume they can do their job without a basic understanding of the history of Canadian colonialism and Aboriginal law is more than a failure to appreciate the relationship between knowledge, understanding and justice.

It is to willfully enlist the power of ignorance in an unacknowledged campaign to deny Indigenous Peoples their past, present and future.

Lakehead University and the University of Winnipeg have mandated that every student take at least one Indigenous studies course.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommends that lawyers receive appropriate cultural competency training, including the history of Treaties and Aboriginal rights and that Canadian law schools require students to take a course in Indigenous Peoples and the law which would also include the history of Treaties and Aboriginal rights.

These are important steps towards subduing the power of ignorance. Without these and other policies that ensure lawyers and judges are educated about Indigenous Peoples, history and the law the Canadian legal system will continue to fail Indigenous Peoples.

The past is more than a memory. It can oppress. It can light the way. The choice is ours.

Bruce McIvor, lawyer and historian, is principal of First Peoples Law Corporation.

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Comments
Paul Chartrand(1 year ago)
The law schools lag behind aided by law societies

Robert Laboucane(1 year ago)
Once again Bruce you have it right. Well done and please continue your dedicated and sincere good work.
Our new government will need all the support of the electorate if they are to overcome the vigorous resistance for our governments employees in implementing their new direction and attitudes.

Bruce McIvor(1 year ago)
Thanks very much, Robert. I really appreciate the feedback.

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