Alberta lawyers say “Canada has no history of oppression”, proving how desperately they need Indigenous justice training

Talk about entitlement. 

It’s disgusting and shameful that 50 lawyers in Alberta have been trying to wriggle out of taking a free, five-hour course on Indigenous cultural competency. The resistance of a handful of litigators to simply learn about Indigenous realities shines a light on the racism and arrogance that Indigenous Nations often face when they engage with a legal system that is, too often, slanted against them. 

Alberta’s Law Society requires, as do most across the country, that lawyers annually take professional development courses. Until 2020 in Alberta, there has been no prescribed content, but in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action #27, this course was proposed as mandatory to every member of the Law Society of Alberta (LSA). The minority of the  members of the LSA who voted against having all members take the course, called “The Path”, are  deeply out of step with the heartbeat of this country. 

Their tantrum comes at a time when six out of ten bestsellers on Canadian bookseller’s shelves are by Indigenous authors.  It comes at a time when, in just three weeks, over 2000 people have signed up for RAVEN’s Home on Native Land – a free, online learning program similarly, designed to respond in part to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action. And it’s come at a time when other responsible businesses are taking to heart the TRC call (#27) to step up and educate their teams about the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal– Crown relations.

RAVEN’s own Board president, Lax Kw’alaams lawyer Jeffrey Nicholls, shares his support for that Call to Action.

“RAVEN wholeheartedly supports education on issues of Indigenous rights and law. We have promoted Indigenous-focussed education for lawyers, judges and really anyone – and it’s a necessary component for the practice of lawyers.”

We’d dismiss Alberta’s resistant lawyers as the dinosaurs they are if they didn’t, unfortunately, hold so much influence.  After all, many of these so-called professionals practice law on behalf of the very governments and corporations who routinely face down First Nations in court. 

We’ve seen their hand in the notorious delay and outspend tactics that are employed to exhaust Indigenous claimants – many of whom are forced to abandon the pursuit of justice simply because they can’t sustain expensive and lengthy litigation. 

We’ve also seen paternalism and contempt in the way Alberta (and Canada) have nickel-and-dimed Beaver Lake Cree Nation, forcing them to turn out their pockets before the court to delay granting Advance Costs that the Nation sorely needs to access justice. 

Ditto the torturously slow progress of litigation through the courts. For instance, had it not been for the resilience and blazing courage of the Louis Bull Tribe, the Nation would not, today, be finally replacing a dysfunctional child welfare regime with their own tribal system. 

So it’s disturbing, to say the least, that a privileged bunch of lawyers sitting on Alberta’s benches are crying foul because they are now being ‘forced’ to confront some of the horrors of our past. It’s obscene that one of their leading voices, Calgary-based lawyer Roger Song, denies that genocide occurred, claiming Canada has no history of discrimination.  

We are heartened though by the many other lawyers who are doing great work to advance Indigenous rights (shout out to the amazing folks on our Legal Advisory Team!!). It’s also a great relief to see that more than 400 lawyers roundly trounced LSA’s vocal and racist minority, and voted to uphold keeping to TRC Call to Action #27 by teaching “The Path”. 

The fact is, while they talk tough lawyers like Song —who initiated the petition to scrap the course —  are undermined by the rise of Indigenous legal power. They’re behaving like schoolyard bullies who know that the smartest people in the room pose a threat to their unfair dominion, and they’re lashing out. 

Tom Flanagan – another Albertan who tried to get this country to take great leaps backwards in its relationships with Indigenous Nations – warned industry years ago that if an alliance of environmentalists, progressives, and Indigenous peoples should form, it would present an unstoppable obstacle to the province’s petrocrats and oily-garchs. 

Well, Tom: we’re here, and, as Heiltsuk’s Jess Housty puts it, “There is no force in the country more powerful than the movement we’re building.”  

Knowledge is power. It’s good to see many other legal experts shout down the minority of Alberta lawyers who are seemingly terrified of the unstoppable Indigenous resurgence that is breaking up old institutions and remaking our country. But: there is something you can do, too, to counteract ignorance and be part of a force for change. 

Sign up now for Home on Native Land: it’s RAVEN’s new self-guided course on Indigenous justice and it’s free, right now. Let’s demonstrate just how many ordinary people agree with the TRC – and ¾ of the Alberta Bar Association –  and are willingly – no, eagerly – lining up to equip themselves with this information. 

What’s the best way to show a bunch of backwards bigots what real solidarity looks like? Get informed. Get involved. Visit https://homeonnativeland.com, click “Register”, and then post on social media that you’ve signed up for this course. Hone your arguments so you can match sloppy, racist thinking with solid facts and smart solidarity.

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