President Brad Regehr meets with Dr. Val Napoleon and Sigma Daum Shanks to discuss Call to Action 28, which calls on law schools to require students to take a course in Aboriginal people and the law.
President Brad Regehr meets with Dr. Val Napoleon and Signa Daum Shanks to discuss Call to Action 28, which calls on law schools to require students to take a course in Aboriginal people and the law.
Dr. Val Napoleon is an associate professor and Law Foundation Professor of Aboriginal Justice and Governance at the University of Victoria. She co-founded UVic’s Indigenous Law Research Unit and the Joint Degree Program in Canadian Common Law and Indigenous Legal Orders JD/JID that launched in 2019.
Signa Daum Shanks is Métis, born and raised in Saskatchewan. She became part of the full-time faculty at Osgoode Hall in 2014, as the schools inaugural Director of Indigenous Outreach. At Osgoode she teaches Torts, Law and Economics, Game Theory and the Law, and Indigenous Peoples and Canadian Law.
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Narrator: This is the Every Lawyer presented by the Canadian Bar Association.
Brad Regehr: Tansi, bonjour, and hello everyone. Welcome to Conversations with the President. My name is Brad Regehr. The 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report contained 94 calls to action. Things that needed to be done in order for reconciliation to take place. In this episode we're going to discuss number 28 which calls on law schools to require students to take a course in Aboriginal people and the law.
Today I've invited two legal academics to talk about what this course might look like. Val Napoleon is no stranger to Indigenous curricula. She's an Associate Professor, and Law Foundation Professor of Aboriginal justice and Governance at the University of Victoria. She co-founded U-Vic's Indigenous Law Research Unit, and the joint degree program in Canadian Common Law and Indigenous Legal Orders – JDJID that launched in 2019. She is from northeast British Columbia, Treaty 8 and a member of the Saulteau First Nation.
Signa Daum Shanks is Metis, born and raised in Saskatchewan. She became part of the full-time faculty at Osgood Hall in 2014 as the schools inaugural Director of Indigenous Outreach. At Osgood she teaches Torts; Law and Economics; Game Theory and the Law; and Indigenous peoples and Canadian Law. She's written extensively on issues surrounding Indigenous history. She's also an active CBA member and currently sits on the board of the Ontario Bar Association.
Welcome to the podcast Val and Signa.
Val Napoleon: Delighted to be here.
Brad Regehr: Would you like to introduce yourselves to our audience?
Val Napoleon: Absolutely, I'm Val Napoleon. I'm a Research Chair with the Faculty of Law at the University of Victoria. I'm the Director of the Indigenous Law Degree Program, and the Director of the Indigenous Law Research Unit. I'm Cree. I'm from Saulteau First Nation which is in Treaty 8 Territory in northeast British Columbia. And I'm an adopted member of the Gitxsan – the northern Gitxsan. My name in the House of [Lu'Hon [00:02:32] is [Speaking Indigenous language [00:02:33].
Brad Regehr: Thanks, Signa?
Signa Daum Shanks: Hey, [Speaking Indigenous language [00:02:38] great to be here. My name is Signa. I was born and raised in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan if people don't remember that. And my family on my mum’s side is – she's a foundling, adopted. And on my dad's side is Metis. And both sides are form the what's now the southeast corner of Saskatchewan, but also was on the other side of that border, close to the area of Turtle Mountain.
And right now I'm very lucky to be the Director of Indigenous Outreach at Osgood Hall Law School. And where I'm also an Associate Professor.
Brad Regehr: Well welcome both of you to the podcast. And Turtle Mountain area I’m very familiar with myself, being here in southern Manitoba.
Signa Daum Shanks: Yeah, so I don't know if our grandmas got their haircuts in the same place, but whenever I was with my grandma we'd go to Melitta and go to the Turtle Derby in Boissevain.
Brad Regehr: That Turtle Derby takes a very long time to complete.
Signa Daum Shanks: Yes, it's a very slow event. Very slow event.
Brad Regehr: So today we're going to talk about Call to Action number 28. And that calls for law schools to create a course that covers the history and legacy of residential schools, treaties, Indigenous law, Aboriginal crown relations, and other topics. It would require a skills-based training and inter-cultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.
Is it me or does that sound like a lot of material to cover in one course?
Val Napoleon: So let me ask you, Brad, would it be possible to do a course in Canadian History, the Canadian legacy of residential schools, Canadian perceptions of treaties, perceptions of Indigenous law. Crown – Aboriginal-Crown relations and other topics. Could there – is it possible to think about a Canadian course with – that spans the breadth and depth of those topics.
And I think if we look at it that way we could see the straight up impossibility of it. But I do think that what is set out in Call 28 is a way for a law school to think about the breadth of what Indigenous legal education should include, and to find ways to see whether, and how aspects of Call 28 could be incorporated into a range of courses. And then to choose from those which would be – which would make sense for a mandatory course given the larger project of Indigenous legal education. So there needs to be a bigger approach.
I just want to also say that I had the wonderful experience this week of listening to the amazing Constance Backhouse and she talked about the importance of imagining vistas of radical change in legal education and in legal practice. And you know what she was saying is that you know, basically she was challenging the emphasis on strictly skills-based legal education. And she was challenging the practice of law as it is. As opposed to law as it should be, or could be.
And so she was encouraging us to create a larger imagination of what's possible. And I think that in the spirit of this radical change vista you know, we can look at Call 28 within that larger frame. And embrace it as you know, we're not going to get it all. But let's get some of it.
Brad Regehr: Signa, what do you think?
Signa Daum Shanks: Oh, ditto. I think especially what I really like about how Val said that. And you know of course I need to give a great not to Val for sort of the cousin, auntie role she's had in my life for a long time. We'd never think twice about if a History Department had one class called Canadian History. You know in the sense of saying well there's no possible way they can cover everything so we can't think of it that way. And I like to think about the idea that everything when it starts out at its early stages is imperfect, and evolving, and as well too that the inspiration that a course will have on colleagues who don't necessarily focus in on that area who are struggling themselves with how to integrate things. Who are wondering about having an advanced class afterwards that while we can see the impossible nature of doing that, we can also find the ways that it might trigger conversations that could rumble some circles elsewhere as far as basic content they're doing.
Or also think of OK, we've got sort of a foundational place where. Now are there ways we can take a deeper dive about subjects that are within it as well?
Brad Regehr: Before we were recording I was talking about when I went to law school many years ago and there really wasn't a lot of options. Can an Indigenous framework be grafted onto the current law school culture? Or do we need to basically tear things down and start over?
Val Napoleon: So I'll take a crack at that, but just before I do you know, one of the things that I've learned here at the University of Victoria is that Indigenous law for lots of non-Indigenous and sometimes Indigenous law professors is really quite frightening. You know, none of us – there is no intact Indigenous legal order in Canada. We're rebuilding all of that. That's what you see Indigenous peoples doing.
And so none of us can say we're fully educated within different legal orders. And so it's – there’s a rebuilding going on. And for lots of people it's like stepping off a cliff. They don't know how to teach it, they don't know what it's going to include. And so on. And one of the things that we've done here is produce a range of materials so that people can see OK, what might a lesson plan look like? What are the resources? How do I approach questions?
And so we've produced for instance two graphic narratives. One is on Cree criminal law and it has a complete 100 page teaching guide that goes with it for different audiences. The other is [Speaking Indigenous language [00:09:39]. It's on Coast Salish Water Law and similarly will have a teaching guide that goes with it.
And so when professors have these materials they can see that it's possible, it's doable. You know, it's a way in. And we also have a gender toolkit, and case book. And we have you know, marital property on reserve toolkits. So you know, there's a lot of materials. In addition to academic papers. And with that you – it stops being like a black box and instead becomes something that they can imagine themselves doing.
On your other question of do you have to tear it all down and start over again? You know, in the 70s I probably would have agreed with that because I thought a revolution was coming. However you know, I think now that there are two colonial stories out there that are really powerful. One is that our law is so different from your law that I can never possibly explain it to you, and you can never possibly understand it.
And what that denies, is that we were and are intellectual people. Able to articulate our substantive laws, legal processes, legal principles and so one. Which is the work we're doing of course. And we're capable of thinking across legal orders. Our ancestors did that. They were intellectual peoples.
The other colonial story is that our legal orders and our law are so fragile that if you try and do anything with it you're going to break it. And so therefore you better leave it alone. And so those colonial stories paralyze what people – the kind of thinking that people are willing to do, the kind of teaching that people are willing to do. And we have to undo those stories, and we have to support people to be the best that they can be. And they will make mistakes and that's the way of it. So I really think that there's potential, and possibilities that we've yet to fully realise.
Brad Regehr: Signa, do you have anything to add?
Signa Daum Shanks: Oh, my gosh how do I keep saying ditto in a conversation and that's OK. But maybe I can sort of think of, or like contribute some things that I thought while Val was talking.
One of the things that you know, I heard Val mention the idea of Indigenous scholars also feeling nervous you know? And I feel like sort of frozen in my tracks as every once in a while the way I have to think about it is you know, thinking of how some peoples might have some knowledge that is deeper, and learned within the family. And learned within the community.
And there might be some people's who don't have that history. And so are personally struggling with trying to do catch-up, and feeling a great privilege in learning, but also feeling a great burden to get it better. And I think in all of this – and I'm not sure if Val would agree with this. Is in a sense of I heard a poet last week describing her poetry and saying have a gentle heart when you hear about hard things. and I thought there's so much of this that is so important for us to do, but we need a gentle heart as we see the moments where we're in shock and awe about how long it's been since someone has talked about Makoto [Speaking Indigenous language [00:13:24]
Or has talked about the role of [Speaking Indigenous language [00:13:28] and also think it's very important to tell people about that stuff. But to also see that there's going to be so many moments where in the old school sort of Ivory Tower kind of way we're so still learning you know? So that whether we think of it as the fabulous sort of packages, and kits, and tools we can share with people helping. Or whether we think of how we're literally trying to make a syllabus up that's due in two weeks for a course that we are very aware that is going to be hard on us too. And that we're going to be making mistakes. And that it's important, and that how we decide to talk about it next term, or next year, or in a decade might be a little bit different as well too.
And I think so many stages of the lifting that's going on with the changes that are behind the idea of that call to action. So much of that lifting is heavy. And it's even heavier than me trying to get a dead treadmill out of my house right now. Which I'm looking at. Which has barricaded me into my kitchen.
So please come over and help me. But I just keep thinking I have to be supportive, and finding humour, and finding you know, a way to make a cup of tea way more regularly than I would typically do. Because this is going to be hard, and it's going to seem so imperfect so many times. But that's OK. And it's still important to sort of trudge on.
In that respect when I'm doing all of this I never think as far as any are of topics, and history and laws that I can learn. There is no possible way I will ever think of it in terms of me especially being an expert. And in fact I think that kind of frame of mind number one rubs completely wrongly with how we’re trained in sort of typical law school kind of ways. Like somebody's a specialist in an area, or they have an expertise in something. Or they practice this area. And I just find in all of the heavy lifting that is exciting, and important to do in this area there's no way I can ever have that kind of frame of mind about it. Because I will miss the moments where I have to still be humble about the mistakes I'm going to make. Where I'm going to find out some really important teachings on year, and some even more important teachings the next year.
It's like I think in all of the sort of tactile, and sort of content things this call is asking for. It's also for sure asking of me to have a method, an attitude, a spirit that is welcoming of others, and welcoming of me when I'm struggling, and feeling like I'm about to fall. And I think throughout all of this we're probably all really better as well too when we're finding others who are going to help us during those moments of struggle.
Brad Regehr: It's said the manner of instruction is as important as the content.
Signa Daum Shanks: Yeah.
Brad Regehr: How do we help the instructors to teach the material properly? Who teaches the teachers?
Signa Daum Shanks: Oh, Val teaches me. There you go.
Val Napoleon: Yeah, that's you know my colleagues here, and I'm sure Signa's been doing this as well. We've been doing all kinds of educational you know, sessions with different law faculties for years. And – like on methodologies. And we also, like we have a one month summer intensive of Indigenous Legal Methodologies that we often get other professors coming and enrolling in. And as well as international students, and lawyers, and along with PhD students, and law students.
So there's a want for people to learn. We've also been similarly engaged with different educational sessions with the judiciary, law societies and so on. So there's a lot of work that is going on. And the other thing is I think that we have to take care not to re-ify Indigenous legal education.
Law has got to do the hard work of law. Not all of it is exciting. Some of it is mundane, and it's about solving problems. And it's about making sure that there's respectful debate and that there's constructive processes for different opinions.
And so every legal order, including Indigenous legal orders had to have a scope of disagreement. You know, John burrows describes Indigenous law, well any law as having – as being comprised of two stories. There's one story that the law is this way, and there's another story that argues with that first story right? And that's the nature of law. It's the nature of people collaboratively managing themselves and solving problems. And so I tell students, and I tell anybody that I work with that the most respectful thing that they can do, insofar as Indigenous law is to be critical of it. To ask the hard questions.
I also tell me students that they're not important enough that they're going to break it if they disagree with it. Or if they critique it. Or if they analyse Gitxsan stories.
So I'm Cree, but I teach Gitxsan land and property law. And all of us I think – I encourage people to work across the legal orders. And to bring different perspectives, and curiosity, and you know just imagination and so on to the work that they're doing. That's what we need. We don't need to re-ify it. We don't need to say there's only one way it's going to be done because we – again we've got to stop shooting ourselves in the foot with that kind of thinking.
Signa Daum Shanks: Mm-hmm and like sort of – like not accidentally freezing ideas that you know, I think so many of us have been very critical of the Van der Peet decision for doing. And sometimes I think there's some metaphorical ways for sort of newbies to this area to understand you know? So we can you know, we can talk about the living tree kind of head space you know?
We can you know also find ways I think to you know mention to others like we wouldn't expect nations in Europe to be on the same page about everything all of the time. So why do we expect Indigenous nations to agree about everything all the time? You know that's not like the sign of conflict or the sing of different ways of solving a problem is not a sign of cultural weakness, or a lack of laws. And I think you know, sometimes I – and I'm not sure Brad if you agree with this too as a practitioner. You know, sometimes I'm nervous that I'm bringing up a metaphor to work as a tool for somebody new to areas they want to know about. That I risk disrespecting the Indigenous laws' weight and impact, and at the same time trying to think of is there a moment where this person I'm in a dialogue with can sort of have a really impactful moment of learning too.
All of the law schools you know, and I think Indigenous scholars that I'm in contact with as friends and as mentors, I feel like I'm always trying to get little tips and trips from them about how to see those little sparks of a moment to get people excited about Indigenous legal orders. And making sure that I respect their learning at the level it is, and the background they have while also making sure that the sacredness. The – it's not precedent setting, but the impact and the foundational strength of the Indigenous laws is not decreased in its weight when I do that moment of welcoming on the verge of translating or sort of making an analogy to help people know the stuff just a little bit better.
Brad Regehr: It's interesting because I've had conversations with, and experiences with in this case the judiciary. And what I've been experiencing is a real, legitimate, sincere interest in finding out about –
Signa Daum Shanks: Stuff yeah.
Brad Regehr: – Indigenous laws, Indigenous legal traditions. And trying to understand it because all of them went through the same sort of legal studies that we went through.
Signa Daum Shanks: Well I'm only 30 so maybe not me.
Brad Regehr: OK, well.
Signa Daum Shanks: No, I'm just kidding. Add 22 years to that.
Val Napoleon: Through our constant Indigenous legal education sessions going on, on all manner of things from child welfare, to the environment to – I've done all kinds of things with you know, dispute resolution, intellectual property. And others have done a huge range of sessions with the judiciary.
One of the – you can start to see some shifts too in the kinds of decisions at least so far in the lower courts. Where Indigenous law is not treated just as a fact, or as evidence. But rather as a resource, or a mode for reasoning and application of the law. Like, so – and if you look at the work of Sebastian Gramond for instance you know, like you can see he's writing about these shifts in the judiciary. And he's also an advocate for a future incorporation of Indigenous legal principles and reasoning into different levels of court.
I don't know if you've heard of a paper called the Duty to Learn or not? It was written by the former Chief Justice of the Appeal Court of BC. And he – it's a great paper, and it's just short. He did for CLE a number of years ago before he passed on. But he said that you know, there's all of these duties to consult right? That that's what the law at that time is developing. And he was saying there's a problem here.
You know as the Judiciary we have a duty to learn about Indigenous law. And he talked about this. So there have been some real champions. And like Sebastien a current champion of making sure that the Judiciary is able to see its own role, and potential in taking up these questions.
You know, judges are the same as everybody else. There's lots of nervousness there that they're not going to get it right. That they'll be considered racist, that they'll do something wrong. That they'll break it and so on. And we have to disabuse them of those fears. In a kind way with us as Signa has said that gentle heart.
Signa Daum Shanks: Yeah, I mean when you just think of like I teach torts law. Would we ever think that a critical question about tort law would sort of bring the whole area of tort law crumbling down? And you know, like – and I ask a question if not questions every day that are perhaps trying to do that and it still hasn't happened.
But you know, like that idea of you know, of thinking about the word critical in its fullest form. It means learning how something functions so that you can use that tool better afterwards. It's not just 100% gold stars. It's asking questions about places where you pause. Where you think it's not going to fit with stuff you've learned in the past.
And from confirming at least for me that you've learned it in a way that the presenter wants you to learn you know? And all of those moments might sound a little bit non=positive when you put them out there, but I think that you know Val's point of thinking that in the learning the Judiciary needs to do – which all of us need to do – that we also really cheer people on as we say yeah. And tell us where you've slowed down and feel where you don't quite get it, and let's talk about that.
But tell us because you can't not learn this you know? And I think that there's lots of people who are very open in wanting to absorb more, but I think the three of us could probably all have some stories where we're trying to really grapple with the idea of parties saying they want to learn, but then doing something that makes us wonder if they're actually going to shut down once they start asking the critical questions.
Brad Regehr: We develop these courses in law schools. Do they – should these courses be mandatory? It's actually a question that's been posed to me in other forums. You know, I remember being at law school and you know, Indigenous students, there would be some that would just be open hostility towards us. You're taking the space of someone else who's more worthy.
And then of course there was also that underlying sort of hidden hostility. That microaggression and all that kind of stuff. So we make this learning mandatory in law schools?
Val Napoleon: I think we can. I mean again we need to – a law school needs to have the overall Indigenous legal education project right? And their course – the mandatory course needs to be part of that larger whole. Not sort of some singular effort all by itself, unsupported by the rest, and unconnected to the rest of the curricula, or the rest of the work that goes on within the law school.
So that's the spirit in which it needs to be developed and taken forward. You know, here the first two weeks of law school here every single student goes through [Speaking Indigenous language [00:29:01] the Cree law, Indigenous Cree law. And they have to analyse it, they have to case brief it. They have to talk about it, and then some professors will bring up the lessons in constitutional law, or in other courses.
And so it's mandatory you know? But it's a part of everything else. So it's not sort of like a separate thing that then some poor instructor has to stand up in front of an unhappy you know, 150 students and talk to them you know? So care can be taken to ensure that the legitimacy and the value is present at all times. And so that the course is supported. And that it's integrated into the rest of the law school. Because the one singular course by itself, you're going to create problems.
Signa Daum Shanks: Yeah, and on that word mandatory I think what I'm – I'm pretty stalwart about having something that everyone can take. Because I also think too like every law school has its own personality. So thinking about how the law school is functioning with the number of electives students can take. Sort of how the terms function even for first year students.
There's sometimes some dynamics that in as far as the current curriculum setup that all law schools will be having on their mind. So that for example some flat out sort of pan-Canadian idea of how to do this won't be there. And also shouldn't be there because of the different nations across the region that's now Canada. But I just always like throwing in the idea of mandatory for now to sort of be a bit of a pebble in some people's shoes if they don't think it should be required.
And I sort of get the strength to be stalwart about it because of my view that adults who are in university right now need a lot of ketchup. And you know, I think I was a pretty unusual kid in Saskatoon that I literally remember in kindergarten our principal bringing in ceremonies to the school via a chief. So I am a very unusual woman in the decade of my life that I'm still in denial of, but as far as watching Indigenous and non-Indigenous folks figure things out together.
But I think there's a lot of adults in university right now who are still even struggling to figure out – although it’s not complicated, we just need to cheer them on. Figure out what the territory is for the space where they grew up.
And so you know, as we think of helping people’s base knowledge, and attitude leading to method, leading to techniques as a lawyer, and a learner about Indigenous laws. I think we just need to be very candid with people who don't think there should be a course to say do you know how to look up about your territory's space? And the Indigenous law and relationships that are there? That by gum just might be brought up in court pretty regularly. And I think most of the time the answer is no. Most of the time it's no.
And until we have you know, people coming to law school who have a base knowledge about maybe not every Indigenous legal norm of course for a region where they're from. But unless their base knowledge is stronger we can't I think, think of anything but a mandatory course you know? And I guess I'd say for example like you know when we have the first year constitutional law class, and I think all law schools would have this observation, that there's people in the class who have heard about the Constitution Act before. You know, and there's people who have taken in elementary and high school, and maybe even have a copy of the Charter of Rights they had in their bedroom if they were a big nerd. That they've had this longer history of interacting with norms, and nomenclature, and the politics side. And talking about social issues, and economic issues.
So that by the time you talk about the Oaks Test in constitutional law they might have already, – or RJR MacDonald – they might have already had sort of experiential moments that learning that moment is just a little bit less difficult. And we're not there with base knowledge about Indigenous laws, and Indigenous peoples, and Indigenous peoples' history in Canada.
And I think until that gets stronger I'm going to be very much on the side of saying I want to see it in a curriculum. And I find myself; I'm like six of one and half a dozen of another about how to do that. At Osgood Hall what we brought in is that everyone has to have by the time they leave Osgood they have to have taken a course that is from a basket, a set of classes. And I think we're trying to sort of think of that ebb and flow of how people might have understandings that they've brought with them. So whether it's you know, pre-law university training. Where they've taken some issues, or it's their family background. That we have a number of courses that they can choose from that represent their position in learning.
And we also have an intensive program that people can do a whole term just on Indigenous peoples and the law. And we have a law camp, and we have amongst that basket of courses we have courses that people can take in their first year for that requirement. So I think what we're really working hard on is trying to find a method that represents the variety of starting points we might have when students sign up for law school.
But I still always find in that you know, just in working with students in those courses that you know, they're not as short with knowledge as I guess I'd say the Judiciary regularly is. You know, and I'm sure the three of us have had conversations with justices where they're so enthusiastic. And that's so wonderful. And they don't quite remember what treaty they're in. Even if they're in the prairies you know?
And so we just think wow, you know like let's talk about how you're in Treaty 4. Isn't that great? Have you ever looked up Treaty 4? You know, sort of start the conversation that way.
But that we have students in that kind of boat too. And it's important in a sort of lawyerly way to think of almost some practicalities that we can make sure that they know about in even a brief sense, but know about. So by the time they leave the law school as I tell me students, that they're going to have opportunities to make it easier for other people who are learning. And that in a sense that's the task I've given them, in learning with them. And I'm also very quick to say there'll probably be unusual at the law firm they're going to work at because they'll probably have a phenomenal amount of potential for learning things that senior lawyers simply don't have.
Brad Regehr: So in both of your experience what do students say about their experience with courses dealing with Indigenous issues, with Indigenous legal traditions? What are you hearing back?
Val Napoleon: Just before we leave the last question Brad. Canada is multi-judicial. That's becoming an accepted you know, way of thinking about our country. And law schools have to catch up to that if they haven't already. And what it means is that if we don't have education – some education, some aspects of our legal education including Indigenous law then that legal education is incomplete. It doesn't equip students to adequately understand a multi-judicial Canada. And it's a problem.
And so I think it's a deficit that people have to start recognizing it as a deficit. And so that's just another approach.
Insofar as students? Well there's all kinds of students, and there's all kinds of courses. I mean I also teach when I'm able Indigenous Feminist Legal Studies along with you know property law, and Gitxsan land, and property law and other courses. So – and then I mentioned the summer intensive that we do. You know, a student who is able to fully engage with Indigenous law if that's the course that they're doing, it can't help but expand the way that they think, and the way that they see the world, and the kind of potential that they're going to have.
You know, the kinds of questions that we have, students when they're thinking about Indigenous law you know, like, you know the questions that I ask is like what makes law, law? What makes law legal? What are the legitimacies in this society? How do you understand legitimacy? What are the sources of that? What are the legalities that comprise a legal order that have to be present in order for law to be law?
So the thing is that those kinds of questions should be asked by every law student. But they should be asked, and talked about around every kitchen table. That's the work that [unintelligible [00:39:57]. Like, so fundamentally you know law, Indigenous law is about Indigenous citizenries. It's about all of us having a grammar through which we can talk about governance, and our economies. And the kinds of norms that we want to aspire to. The way that we want to solve problems. Whose voices should be heard? How we should handle disagreements. Where – how the debate should take place?
Like all of these things, like this is the richness and the promise of law. There's the failures of law too that we have to make sure we understand. But these are larger conversations beyond the rules that –- which is sometimes the way that people understand law. And that's a pretty impoverished view of it.
So what we're encouraging here is to think on a much larger scale about – to contextualize Indigenous law within that larger frame. And that's the work that all other law should be doing as well. So that we don't just produce technical focused practitioners, but people who are able to think much more broadly. As well as have the kinds of skills, and the best practices that will make them good practitioners when they're out there working with people.
So the feedback form students then is usually about those larger ideas. And how those larger ideas inform the practice. So what they can see, the assumptions that are made. SO that they can see the importance of transparency and reasoning, and power dynamics that law is a part of. Whether it's in Indigenous power dynamics, or in non-Indigenous power dynamics.
So it’s – there's a lot of excitement. Sometimes there's a lot of resentment because it's hard work. And – but people get there, and I'm pretty excited by the young, supple minds that I see.
Signa Daum Shanks: I'm going to say this, and I'm sure Valerie will get what I mean too. But this is a especially for you, Brad. In a prairie Cree kind of way. And I'm going to tell you something that I think I've told every class since I've started teaching law school. And it's kind of a good barometer for me to see how some other moments might go. And it's the following thing I've told my classes.
Sometimes I'm going to be the auntie you wish you weren't related to. And I find for example talking about that idea of being an auntie to people when they're learning. I get some faces that are like what is going on here? And then I get some people who giggle.
And I've always found that you know, as if I was especially back home I'd say local folks would know what I mean. And some of their colleagues might be I guess she's kind of weird. Let's see what's going to happen.
And I guess what I find as far as a student response is – and this is the for example the one really good thing about if you have courses where you're working with students all year. Because I think sometimes in these really hard moments what is especially hard, when it's students who are new to something. And potentially nervous for ways that you know what? We totally understand because we'd say I'd be nervous too.
Working with them in the time periods we have with students doesn't let these sort of developing, or the blossoming, or the building up of relationships the way any of us would like to do. But I really find with all of my classes I always have a feast on the final day. And I'm always so you know, to the tears students have, to the teasing and laughing that we do with each other. It's so warming – heartwarming to me to see how people who I'm potentially nervous that they might not have an opportunity to be discussing Indigenous peoples, and Indigenous laws in the way we have in the class. But you know, they're on their merry way after they leave the class.
But that when we've talked about the heavy things of like what the H, E, double hockey sticks, colonialism means? And how do you notice that? And how do you bring up that word when you leave this classroom?
They feel better about how they're going to do that. Or how they think about how you know, learning some stories such as the owl and the raven can be taken as seriously as any decision they read form the Supreme Court of Canada.
They know that, and I find that I think I'm an instructor that as I said is sometimes the auntie they wished they hadn't bumped into on some days. But that I also love getting the hugs from students about a year and a half after it's over. And find too that one of the reasons why we can really stress the importance of this learning within law schools is how when we hear form students after they've left law school in the way that this information and us talking about processes and methods being differently helps them be better lawyers.
And so we can talk about it in big, really almost theory ways that are so important to be sort of thinking about how our vocabulary, and our sort of over-arching sort of influences on the Canadian legal system have really harmed so many people's – and especially Indigenous people's – and we need to notice that in everything we do. And then we can find out that we have some student that we thought couldn't stand our class, and is working at a law firm that has you know, a client from Prince Albert who wants to talk about something that a municipality is challenging as far as a traditional ceremony.
And they may not know everything to bring up with their senior lawyer, but they know to go read the treaty first. You know, and I think that's where I find the conversations with students so much fun is that the learning is heavy. And it's heavy on their heart. So we might not get the oh, this is a great class. I just finished writing the final kind of response from them.
But we will find as the months, and years evolve that they're seeing the Indigenous laws in spaces they never noticed them before. And they feel even better about the responsibility they have – which I always tell them that, you have a responsibility to make it easier for people who come after you. And the responsibility they have for broaching the subject with others about the Indigenous laws that are around the people they work with as well.
Brad Regehr: Val, Signa, we could keep talking for hours I think about this area. Unfortunately time just won't allow us to. I want to thank you both form the bottom of my heart, Mîkwêc for being so open, and honest. For sharing your wisdom. This is going to be a fantastic podcast, so thank you again.
Val Napoleon: Thank you Brad, I really appreciate the opportunity. And I love you know, being able to share the conversations with Signa. Really appreciate your effort here, thank you.
Signa Daum Shanks: Thanks, and this has just been so great. And you two are awesome cousins. Thanks so much for having me here. And nice to talk to two people who are back out West while I'm out here.
Brad Regehr: In this episode I’ve been talking with Van Napoleon, co-founder of the joint degree program in Canadian Common Law and Indigenous Legal Orders at the University of Victoria. And Signa Daum Shanks who teaches a number of subjects at Osgood Hall including a course titled Indigenous People and Canadian Law. Thank you for listening.
Narrator: We want to hear your stories about your experience as an Indigenous person with the legal profession. As a practitioner, as a student, or as an academic. Let us know on Twitter at @CBA_News, on Facebook, and on Instagram at @CanadianBarAssociation.
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