From the Fall/Winter 2016 issue of Nexus

The Indigenous Initiatives Office, managed by alumna Amanda Carling, JD 2012, has challenged the Faculty of Law community to think about—and act on—ways to improve Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples. The Reconciliation Resolutions Challenge invites students, faculty, staff—and alumni—to commit to doing at least three things to help our country move towards a better relationship with Indigenous peoples. In addition to speakers such as former Assembly of First Nations national chief Phil Fontaine, who will be our honorary degree recipient at Convocation this year, and alumna and children’s lawyer for Ontario Marian Jacko, here’s a snapshot of some of the activities that have taken place throughout the academic year:

Read more on the Reconciliation Resolution here:

“It’s a beautiful time to be Métis”

Group shot of Metis Nation of Ontario President and alumna Margaret Froh with with Indigenous students past, present and futureMétis Nation of Ontario President and alumna Margaret Froh, first row and second from left, with Indigenous students past, present and future.

By Peter Boisseau

Educating the country about who the Métis are—and dispelling the myths surrounding them—is one of the biggest challenges, said Margaret Froh to a law school audience that came to hear about the struggles of the Métis through history, their recent legal victories, and what the future holds.

That history includes being burned out of their homes, chased from their land and denied a place at the table during treaty negotiations with other Indigenous groups, as the provinces and federal government waffled over who had jurisdiction for the Métis.

At a meeting on Parliament Hill, sitting beneath a picture of the Fathers of Confederation, Métis leaders reminded the [federal] cabinet members that Jan. 30 was also the anniversary of the day in 1981 that Métis were included in the draft of what was to become Section 35 of the new Constitution.

Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 recognizes and affirms the rights of Canada’s Indigenous peoples. But it wasn’t until April 2016 that the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Métis and nonstatus Indians are “Indians” under the definition of the Constitution, and fall under federal jurisdiction.

“We were able to discuss with cabinet what we have been through as Métis, and the relationship we want to have moving forward,” Froh said about the meeting in Ottawa.

Following his meetings with Indigenous leaders last December, Trudeau said Ottawa wanted to establish government–to-government relationships with First Nations, Inuit and Métis.

Froh bristled at the misconception Métis are simply mixed race descendants of Europeans and First Nations peoples.

“There are some people who will tell you that nine months after the first European arrived on the shores of Canada, the first Métis came to be,” Froh said. “That notion is false, and it’s really quite insulting.”

Read the full story here:

Outdoor classroom: Indigenous law course at Cape Croker Indian Reserve

U of T Law students at Cape Croker

By Noreen Ahmed-Ullah

A new U of T law course offered last September introduced law students to Indigenous law from a land-based perspective, meaning the classroom moved outdoors to Cape Croker Indian Reserve on Georgian Bay, where students learned from elders and chiefs about traditional laws.

Twenty students learned Anishinaabe law and legal tradition by on-site reference to treaties and stories about how to interact with the water, rocks, plants and animals.

“The idea behind the course is that in order to fully understand some of the concepts of Anishinaabe law and legal traditions, you must be on the land and interact with the land,” said Alexis Archbold, assistant dean of the JD program at U of T Law.

“I think law schools have done a good job teaching how the Canadian law has been applied to First Nations, Inuit and Métis people but a fair critique is that these courses do not adequately include Indigenous perspectives. In Canada, we have civil law, the Common Law tradition and Indigenous law, which existed well before the civil code and Common Law came around. As Canadians, we need to keep all three traditions in mind when we’re thinking about the laws of this country.”

U of T Law considered starting the program after Professor John Borrows, who teaches similar courses on the topic at University of Victoria and Osgoode Law School, approached the university… to teach the class for credit. He worked with Associate Dean Kerry Rittich to make the course more academically rigorous.

It took place Sept. 8-11 in Borrows’s own reserve, Neyaashiinigmiing, on the Bruce Peninsula in present-day southern Ontario. Borrows is Anishinaabe and many of his family still reside in the Cape Croker community.

Read the full story here:

Renewing story of partnership, peace stemming from treaties

Mayor of Winnipeg Brian Bowman with U of T Law Indigenous students past and presentMayor of Winnipeg Brian Bowman, third from right, with U of T Law Indigenous students past and present

By Peter Boisseau

Since sweeping to power in Winnipeg in 2014 to become the first Indigenous mayor of a major Canadian city, alumnus Brian Bowman, JD 1999, has been trying to bring his community together and heal a legacy of racism.

Much of that intolerance and hatred has been directed at the city’s large Indigenous population—which includes Métis, First Nations, Inuit and Dene—who now represent approximately 11 per cent of its more than 700,000 residents.

The affable Bowman, who is sometimes chided for being “too nice,” cut his teeth on student politics while studying law at U of T in the late 1990s before returning to Winnipeg, where he eventually started his own practice before running for mayor.

“What I learned at U of T was how to teach myself to learn,” said Bowman, who is Métis. “I certainly felt that, when I left here, I had a strong footing to make a difference in the world.”

Since being elected, Bowman has tackled Winnipeg’s problems by bringing together a coalition of disparate groups and delving into areas not normally addressed by civic politicians.

He has used the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada as inspiration for his campaign to turn Winnipeg into a shining example of tolerance and inclusion, no small feat for a city Maclean’s magazine labelled the most racist in Canada.

Bowman said the report should serve as a wake-up call about Canada’s own dark history of racism and mistreatment of Indigenous peoples, and also as an opportunity to return to the optimistic vision that helped build the nation.

“We have some big problems affecting Canadians from coast to coast to coast, and we have a responsibility to turn the ship around, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike.”

Read the full story here: