The Every Lawyer

Exploring the CBA Truth and Reconciliation Toolkit For Firms

Episode Summary

An interview with Jennifer David to discuss the CBA Truth and Reconciliation Toolkit for Firms.

Episode Notes

An interview with Jennifer David to discuss the CBA Truth and Reconciliation Toolkit For Firms.

Jennifer David (Chapleau Cree First Nation),  a skilled and experienced communicator, project manager, planner, facilitator and lead development of CBA Truth and Reconciliation Toolkit.

To consult the CBA Truth and Reconciliation Toolkit.

To consult the CBABC Reconciliation Response Plan (RRP)

To consult The Path - Your Journey Through Indigenous Canada

To contact us (please include in the subject line ''Podcast''):

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Episode Transcription

Exploring the CBA Truth and Reconciliation Toolkit For Firms

Marlisse Silver-Sweeney: Welcome to The Every Lawyer, the Canadian Bar Association podcast. I'm your host Marlisse Silver-Sweeney. Many lawyers across the country are grappling with their role in reconciliation with the genocide of indigenous peoples, particularly with the horrifying news out of Kamloops and other nations around Canada of undocumented deaths of children at the hands of the residential school system. Sometimes though it's hard to know where to start, to make it easier the Canadian Bar Association has created a reconciliation toolkit for firms. It helps begin or expand the journey in this area. If you want to check it out during this episode the link to it is listed in the episode description.

Today we'll talk about just how to engage in this work in a meaningful way on the Every Lawyer. Our guest is Jennifer David; she's a member of the Chapleau Cree First Nation and an experienced communicator, project manager, planner and facilitator. Let's get started because as CBA President Brad Regehr says, "an introduction to the toolkit, there's still much work to be done." Jennifer, thanks so much for being here with us today.

Jennifer David: You're welcome [laughs].

Marlisse Silver-Sweeney: I'm located in Vancouver on the traditional ancestral and unceded territory of the Musqueam Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations. I'm a settler to this land and I'm engaging on my own journey of reconciliation, both personally and professionally. And I'm looking forward to learning more from you today. I wanted to know first off where are you joining us from?

Jennifer David: Hello. Aanii, Wachay. (Introduction in Cree) good afternoon. Hello, Marlisse, it's nice to meet you. My name is Jennifer David [Natisa Cawson 00:02:05] I am originally from [Omishego 00:02:07] which is North Eastern Ontario, Treaty 9 territory and I always acknowledge the land I come from. And I am here now in Ottawa on unceded, unsurrendered, Algonquin Anishinaabe territory.

Marlisse Silver-Sweeney: Thank you. So you lead the development of the CBA truth and reconciliation toolkit that we're talking about today. Can you tell me about the work that went into this resource?

Jennifer David: So I was originally approached because I was working with a few people from the CBA on our online indigenous cultural awareness course, the path. And then I was asked if I could help them work on this idea that they had for this toolkit. So I was originally shared a document, I think it was our BC reconciliation action plan from your regional session, you're in BC so it was from the BC CBA. And they thought could we do something with this more broadly and make this, make it available for people more widely? And originally the idea was a toolkit.

Now traditionally sort of toolkits are like a document with a few sort of links and templates and things. And I said I think it's a good idea but we should definitely make it more interactive and make it more like a website, somewhere where people can go and find resources and templates and tools that they could use. And so the CBA thought that was a good approach and so we started collecting information. We met with a number of people from different law firms and indigenous people as well who are lawyers and said you know what should we include in this kind of toolkit? What are the sort of topics or headings? And so we kind of started broadly and then we started to get more specific and we narrowed it down to the four categories that you'll see now on the toolkit on the website. And then we tried to figure out what would be good resources and tools and templates to include under each of those categories and that's how we worked it.

Marlisse Silver-Sweeney: Wow, OK a lot of work. But I really enjoy – I could tell as I was reading through it to prepare for this episode that the curation was really amazing of the resources as was the, you know, there's lots of original resources in there too. That's what I wanted to talk about you next. There were really engaging templates particularly surrounding external communications for firms. How do you expect firms will be using these?

Jennifer David: Well, I'm hoping that they, as they go on their own journeys of reconciliation that if they're not quite sure where to start, or if they have a particular idea of what they want to do, I'm hoping that they can find a resource for it on the website. You know, for example if a law firm says, you know, we want to put out a statement about our support, you know, for truth and reconciliation, well there's a template for that. Or if they want to put out a press release because they're doing some work in this area, there's a template for that. So I'm hoping that they'll use it in a very practical way.

Or even if they, they've already, you know, they've thought about doing a reconciliation action plan themselves or maybe they already have one and they need to update it, well there's some templates and tools around the kinds of things you could think about as you're developing a plan. So it's not trying to be prescriptive, it's just giving people a little more of an opportunity to find these tools and templates and resources if they're not sure where to go. And of course it's also so that, you know, the law firms – I mean we don't have any excuse anymore, right, to move in this, on this journey. And you know, in doing education myself in cultural awareness and truth and reconciliation sometimes it's just people saying well, we're not sure what to do, we don't really know where to start.

So this toolkit gives you a place to start. But it's also robust enough that if you are already well along this journey there are still things that you could learn. And I learn things as well. I mean I was reading up about what it takes to be an ally, I didn't even know what does that mean? People are using this word, what does it mean? So I did some research and sort of culled from different articles and things where they talked about being an ally. And I said OK, I get it now so let's put something with a sort of indigenous lens on this idea of how to be an ally and put that in the toolkit.

Marlisse Silver-Sweeney: I really like that section as well. I really thought it was so helpful and practical, yeah, I just yeah, congratulations on that excellent resource. This kind of guides me to my next question actually and that's the work that needs to be done beyond the templates. What does a resource do to support work like that?

Jennifer David: So I do encourage law firms to do reconciliation action plans and we've seen them and I've seen them in my work and consulting company NVision. We do work with communities and organizations and corporations to do strategic planning. So in essence a reconciliation plan is essentially a strategic plan for truth and reconciliation. And so that seems to be something that I've seen a number of law firms do. And I think that's probably a really good way to try to frame the work that your law firm is going to be doing in this area of truth and reconciliation.

Because our reconciliation action plan lays out all the pieces that you need to think about and then what you're actually going to do about it and then how you're going to evaluate whether you've done what you said you're going to do. And I think once it comes together in that kind of plan it's a good way – and then when there's a change in leadership or when new staff come on they've got something that they can look at and say oh this is where this law firm is going in this area.

Marlisse Silver-Sweeney: You know, that's such a simple analogy but it's so effective for me and one that I've never heard before so thank you for sharing that. My next question is about the target audience and how this helps them engage in reconciliation. So I heard you talk about law firms but I know the toolkit also caters to solo practitioners, large law firms, medium law firms, I can't image that was an easy task to accommodate . How did you do that?

Jennifer David: Well, I think we had to – most of the resources are for law firms. We didn't really think necessarily about size but it was more about where were they on this journey of truth and reconciliation? And so we wanted to develop a lot of tools for law firms or, you know, individual lawyers who have not yet really even started on this journey. So a lot of very perhaps what others may see as very basic or foundational. But it was important because we just don't know where the lawyers or the law firms are coming from.

But we also wanted to make sure OK, if you've already done your reconciliation action plan and you've got some of these policies in place, what else can you do? So then we tried to think about some things that might be beyond that, right, the allyship or the communication. So things that they could continue to do in their journey of truth and reconciliation that's beyond the sort of foundational pieces. So I wouldn't say that we thought necessarily about sizes of law firms but more about where they were on the journey of reconciliation.

Marlisse Silver-Sweeney: Right and trying to cater to people who are kind of at all points in their journey.

Jennifer David: Yeah.

Marlisse Silver-Sweeney:  Speaking of the journey to reconciliation, you have such a breadth of experience in these areas, what have you seen as the biggest impediment to people who want to meaningful engage in reconciliation?

Jennifer David: That's a pretty big question. You know, on this journey the first thing that really needs to happen is awareness. And I know that the CBA as I mentioned has NVision online culture awareness course called the path. And I think the biggest barrier is just people don't have an awareness, we don't understand our own history. We don't understand how and why we are at this place we are at today in our relationships with indigenous people because we have no idea how we got to where we are today. And so I think that perhaps is the biggest barrier.

And I think the Truth and Reconciliation Commission when they came out with their report in 2015 really made it accessible in their calls to action. And to get people to be educated and to think about own history and think about our own cultural biases and the ways that we see the world and how that is a barrier and a challenge to reconciliation. And so I think if we can overcome that barrier and move people to a sort of a place where we all have this foundational knowledge about our own history, I think then there's fewer barriers going forward. Because what I found in all of the courses that I teach about the path is they say I just, I had no idea. And I'm committed, you know, to learning more and doing more now that I know what I know. And I think that's – if we can overcome that first barrier then the toolkit is very useful for individuals and law firms because they want to see how they can do things practically.

Marlisse Silver-Sweeney: Right, OK. So would you say the toolkit is the next step after people have done that self education piece?

Jennifer David: I do, I do. I mean we do have already learning, you know, as, you know, it's in number two in the toolkit if you look on the website because really it has to start with leadership. So if I would add one more thing in terms of barrier it might be from the leadership. So when leadership says truth and reconciliation is important to me or to us or to this law firm then things get done. When there's resistance from leadership then it flows down that that's the attitude that everyone in the firm would have. So I think those would probably be the two key barriers. And that's why we start with leadership, that's sort of number one on the toolkit because if your firm develops messaging and you're promoting the efforts and you sort of set out your own reconciliation action plan and it comes from the top, then there's buy-in from throughout your own law firm or organization.

Marlisse Silver-Sweeney:  Right, that makes sense, the biggest barriers being lack of education and awareness of history as well as buy-in from leadership.

Jennifer David: Yeah, that's what I would say.

Marlisse Silver-Sweeney: You already explained that there are four kind of big broad main categories in the toolkit. And it seems like you took a lot of time and effort and thought to figure out these categories. And I thought it was really interesting that one is devoted solely to talent management and students. Will you explain to me why this topic in particular is to integral to the process of reconciliation within the legal sphere?

Jennifer David: I would say because many law firms already have like diversity and inclusion committees and organizations. They've tried to have a lens on, you know, diversity and inclusion in the work that they do, but not an indigenous specific lens on those things. And so it was important to get people to think indigenous specific, right? I'm not saying that it's not important to talk about, you know, black and people of colour. I'm just saying that it's a unique relationship especially for law firms because Canada has a very unique constitutional relationship with indigenous people, right?

We're in the constitution, there's Supreme Court cases are all about, you know, aboriginal rights and so we need to remember that sort of special relationship. And if you want to make your workplace somewhere that's more diverse and inclusive, how are you doing that so it's more inclusive for indigenous people? And how can you have not just anti-bias hiring practices but anti-bias hiring practices for indigenous people, right? What are your recruitment strategies for indigenous students? And it's just getting people to think with a bit more of an indigenous lens on some of these things that likely many law firms are already doing.

Marlisse Silver-Sweeney: Alright, that makes sense to me. And can you highlight – have you heard any feedback about how the firms have actually taken that advice? I know it's [unintelligible 00:14:46] So it could be too early of a question or in any of your other work or in consulting, what type of changes have people made, like structural changes to their talent management to actually do a better job of hiring and keeping indigenous talent.

Jennifer David: So first of all I just want to say that this work is the CBA's now. I was just contracted to help do it. And I wouldn’t even say I had the lead, it was certainly the team that I worked with at the CBA that had the lead and I just provided some input. But a lot of work has been done by others within the CBA. And so I just want to make sure that that gets acknowledged and Leanne Plamondon was my key resource there and she did a ton of work to make sure this got up. So I just want to make sure that the shout out goes where it should go.

But in terms of a feedback in general in this work that I do, again going back to how I answered the first question, I think people are just shocked that this is Canadian history, right? We have this maybe superiority complex that we think we're so much better than United States or that, you know, that happened so long ago and we're not like that anymore. When really we are still unfortunately living in a system that discriminates against indigenous people at every level of our society and in our systems and when people realize that it kind of just opens their eyes. And, you know, we try to say we want to change hearts and minds because it's not just intellectually it's got to also be emotional.

And what Canadians have been going through over the last month since the first announcement of those, the recoveries of those children from residential school has really made people question, right, what they know what they learned and what their sort of role is. And it doesn't have to have been, you know, oh that wasn't me, that wasn't my family, it's not about that. It's about how did we have such a system that allowed something like residential schools? And I think if people then start to look around them and they say OK, what is going on where I work? And in this case of course it's the law firms. How are the things that we are doing at this law firm inadvertently, or unconsciously even, contributing to that discrimination and how do we change that? And so it's a whole culture change, it's a whole sea change, it's a whole paradigm shift that we – that I've seen people start to just think differently about these things.

Marlisse Silver-Sweeney: Well thank you. Thank you for that answer and explaining, you know, how the history relates to the work that we're doing now. The toolkit is described as the first step in the reconciliation journey, what are the next steps?

Jennifer David: Well, I have to say that the law firms themselves will have to figure that out as they go through, right? If it's a reconciliation action plan well then as you implement the plan what are the pieces that are in it, right? So all of these pieces, there's a lot that's in this toolkit and it's – I don't think it's possible for law firms to do every single one of these things. But again it comes down to leadership, it comes down to awareness and it comes down to what the law firms are willing to do. And how they want to progress and in what area and where they feel their own law firm needs work, whether that's in talent management or maybe it is awareness or maybe it's in how they support their indigenous clients.

So there's any number of ways. And I think the toolkit, you know, built on, you know, a reconciliation action plan and awareness there's all kinds of things that can be done. And I hope people will be inspired to come up with their own sort of ideas and things that they can do. This is really just – this is not the be all and end all and I hope that more tools and resources will be added to the toolkit. But the idea was to just give some ideas to think oh, you know what, we could do that, oh that's an interesting idea, let's see if we can do that. And I hope that that builds and people are inspired to come up with their own ideas and maybe the toolkit can be – can help with that.

Marlisse Silver-Sweeney: Well, I certainly learned a lot from it and from this conversation today. So Jennifer, thank you so much for your time.

Jennifer David: You're very welcome, have a good day.

Marlisse Silver-Sweeney: Thank you to Jennifer for guiding us through such an important conversation today. If you want to learn more, the toolkit can be accessed through the CBA website under the publications and resources section and it's also on an episode description of this podcast. We'd be interested in hearing your own experiences with your reconciliation journey. Tweet to us @CBA_News or you can reach me at my handle @Marlissess. We are on Spotify, apple podcast and Stitcher, wherever you listen to podcasts. Subscribe to receive notifications for new episodes and leave us a review. We also have a podcast in French called Juriste branché. Thanks for listening. Stay tuned for the next episode.