Allard School of Law Responds to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action
By Catherine Dauvergne
August 10, 2015 – The Allard School of Law at UBC commends the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s ground-breaking work, and welcomes its 94 Calls to Action. Call to Action number 28 is specifically addressed to Canadian law schools, and with this statement the Allard School of Law begins its response.
Call to Action number 28 asks that all Canadian law schools include in their compulsory curriculum a course dedicated to Aboriginal Peoples and the law. As part of its compulsory first year program the Allard School of Law has had an Aboriginal rights course that partially fulfils this Call to Action since 2012. Call to Action number 28 is a signal to us to ensure this course is examined and adjusted as necessary. We also recognize that Call to Action number 28 reaches beyond the rights framework of our current curriculum, and during the upcoming autumn term we will review our program to meet educational goals outlined by the Commission.
It is vitally apparent that the relationship of legal education to the Commission’s Calls to Action neither begins nor ends with number 28. Law mediates at every turn the relationship between Indigenous peoples and their governments and Canadian governments on local, provincial, and national levels. Beyond the specific curricular challenge set by Call to Action number 28, it is imperative for all Canadian law schools to provide the educational foundation for young lawyers to contribute to reconciliation in myriad ways throughout their careers. Well over half the Calls to Action require specific legislation, law reform, or discretionary legal choices. Well-educated Canadian lawyers, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike, will be required at every turn to respond to these important Calls to Action, and they must be trained accordingly.
At the Allard School of Law, and at UBC more broadly, we take this responsibility seriously. During the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s national event in Vancouver in September of 2013 UBC took the unprecedented step of cancelling all classes, in all faculties, and encouraged all students and faculty to participate in the event. At the same time UBC supported educational experiences about the history of residential schools across campus. At the Allard School of Law we marked that national event by ensuring that every student had at least one class focused on residential schools and the TRC. The Allard School of Law has also been a strong supporter of the UBC Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre.
The Allard School of Law began its Indigenous Legal Studies Program in 1975. We opened the door to our Indigenous Community Legal Clinic in 1995. We have one of the largest groups of law students in the country who self-identify as Aboriginal, with 61 students in our current undergraduate student body of 590, all of them supported within the Indigenous Legal Studies Program. The Indigenous Law Students Association, comprised of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, has 147 members.
We are working to improve our support for Indigenous students, and to ensure that Indigenous and non-Indigenous students alike understand that the development of Aboriginal law in Canada is the most significant shift in the Canadian legal landscape in our lifetimes. In addition to curricular developments we have a full-time staff person supporting learning outcomes for Indigenous students. Furthermore, the life of our faculty includes an annual Indigenous Awareness Celebration week, and an Indigenous Awareness Camp for new students. In addition to our compulsory curriculum we have an array of advanced and optional courses in indigenous law, and we strive to integrate Indigenous perspectives into all courses. The current state of Canadian law requires no less. This year we will offer a course in Métis Law for the first time.
It is vital to understand that the challenge of reconciliation is for all Canadians, all law schools, and all lawyers. At Allard Law we are committed to meeting this challenge through cooperation and collegiality with our colleagues in law schools across the country, and with our education partners in law societies across the country, including, especially, the Law Society of British Columbia.
As we welcome our first year class in September 2015, we will, as is our tradition, receive a Musqueam welcome. We do this principally because UBC is situated on the unceded, ancestral territory of the Musqueam. This fact presents an important moment for reconciliation – for all of us to grapple with the continuing importance of building a relationship that will honour this welcome, and to continue to work towards bridging the gap between the unreconciled past and the future that the TRC imagines for us all.
Catherine Dauvergne, Dean