When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its Calls to Action in 2015, I emphasized the need for Canadian law schools to respond to the call for mandatory training for all law students in Indigenous and Aboriginal Law. This is a necessary prerequisite towards reconciliation, and in training the next generation of lawyers to decolonize our legal system.
That same year, some law schools expressed an interest in reforming the curriculum, but acknowledged that all fell short of that goal. Since that time, Canadian law schools have been slowly finding ways to increase their Indigenous content.
Osgoode’s Dean Sossin explained some of the challenges around the implementation of this call to action,
Importantly, this Call to Action is placed within the section of the Summary Report dealing with the “Justice” system. It speaks not to goals around education (dealt with in detail through other Calls to Action) but around the knowledge and skills of legal professionals – and represents a response to the many submissions to the TRC highlighting deficits in lawyers both representing governments and Indigenous communities and individuals at various points in the Residential Schools saga. Call to Action #28 mirrors a similar Call to Action (#27) calling on Law Societies to cover the same areas in the licensing process by which law school graduates become lawyers (and this Call to Action was the subject of a memorable conference sponsored by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada in Winnipeg earlier in October in which I also had the good fortune to participate).
While Canadian legal education is poised at a crossroads where transformative change is possible, it is important not to settle for the quickest and most tangible options. Creating a separate, stand-alone course, as other law professors have noted, could expose all law students to important material as envisioned in Call to Action #28 but may actually serve to marginalize the teaching of Indigenous law. If it is taught in its own course, that might suggest it is not fundamental to how we teach and understand other elements of the curriculum, from Property and Constitutional Law to Torts, Tax and Administrative Law.
Similarly, to view Call to Action #28 as hived off from other Calls to Action in the TRC Report also could have the effect of isolating legal education from other integrated responses to the TRC (perhaps, for example, involving collaborative initiatives between courts, law societies and law schools).
Earlier today, the Faculty Council at Osgoode Hall passed a unanimous vote to introduce mandatory Indigenous and Aboriginal law requirements for all students, starting September 2018.
The Osgoode Indigenous Students Association (OISA) stated in an online release,
The introduction of the new requirement is a meaningful step forward for reconciliation at Osgoode…
OISA looks forward to continued Indigenization initiatives at the law school int he future and again congratulates Osgoode hall in its exciting new endeavour.
With the largest law school in Canada introducing these changes in the next school cohort, the hope is that all law schools will soon follow their suit.