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June 7, 2021

Law school committee works to respond to Calls to Action

Curriculum changes, new courses incorporate Indigenous law and legal perspectives

When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) identified its 94 Calls to Action in 2015, several recommendations focused on access to jobs, training and education opportunities, and the need for meaningful consultation with Indigenous communities when developing new educational programming. For UCalgary Law, the goal was clear — develop responses to the Calls to Action and improve the Indigenous student experience at the law school.

Following the launch of ii’ taa’poh’to’p, the university’s Indigenous Strategy in 2017, the law school also convened its first standing committee on Indigenous strategy. Made up of three faculty members, the heads of student recruitment and student services, current Indigenous law students, the Indigenous initiatives liaison from the Law Society of Alberta and an Indigenous alum, the committee’s approach is a comprehensive one. 

Professor Robert Hamilton

Robert Hamilton.

“Responding to the TRC, incorporating Indigenous law and legal perspectives in the Calgary Curriculum, recruiting Indigenous students and supporting them through their law school journey and into their careers, are all interrelated aspects of the committee’s strategy,” explains professor Robert Hamilton, chair of the committee. 

Blanket exercise, new courses among improvements 

To date, the committee and the law school have made significant progress in response to the Calls to Action. Programming in the first-year curriculum includes student participation in the Kairos blanket exercise, a visit to the Blackfoot Crossing historical site, the site of the signing of Treaty 7, and participation in “The Path” from the Canadian Bar Association.

For second- and third-year students, courses in Indigenous legal theory and Indigenous business law give all students understanding and experience in the current and historical legal traditions and issues of Indigenous people in Canada and around the world. When a summer program for new Indigenous law students was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, faculty members developed a new program for students across Canada to fill the gap and to make sure students could be exposed to the law before their first day of class.

“We strive to ensure that both our Indigenous and non-Indigenous students are well positioned to start their legal careers being able to view the law with an understanding of the complex relationships between Indigenous Peoples and the law, while also supporting our Indigenous students in following their passions,” says Hamilton.

Andrew Showalter

Andrew Showalter.

More support for Indigenous students 

The most recent development in the committee's mandate was the recent hiring of a co-ordinator, Indigenous initiatives and reconciliation, who will be a vital support person for Indigenous students and a key participant in moving the needle on the committee’s goals. 

Before joining the law school, Andrew Showalter articled at Calgary Legal Guidance where he assisted vulnerable Albertans navigate through the legal system. As their Indigenous articling student, he was tasked with supporting CLG’s Sahwoo mohkaak tsi ma taas (Before Being Judged) program which addresses Indigenous access to justice through specific Indigenous-client focused outreach clinics and initiatives, including Calgary’s Indigenous Court.

“I am excited to join the University of Calgary Faculty of Law on their journey of reconciliation and look forward to directly supporting Indigenous students as they begin their legal careers,” says Showalter.

In June, Canadians celebrate National Indigenous History Month to honour the history, heritage and diversity of Indigenous peoples in Canada. It is also an opportunity to recognize the strength of present-day Indigenous communities. 

National Indigenous History Month is a time for learning about, appreciating and acknowledging the contributions First Nations, Inuit and Métis people have made in shaping Canada. 

The Government of Canada recognizes the importance and sacred nature of cultural ceremonies and celebrations that usually occur during this time. While celebrations and events for National Indigenous History Month may be different this year than those in the past, we can still share and learn from stories, traditions and culture in new ways that keep us together and connected.