Māmawī Wīcihitowin: Colonization is not about sharing space. The Treaties are.
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“Māmawī Wīcihitowin” is Nēhiyawin (Plains Cree) for “Working Together, Helping One Another”. This thesis explores māmawī wīcihitowin in legal education. In my observations, research and experiences in legal education, I perceived a gap in law school curriculum, settler colonialism studies and anti-racism training. This perceived gap became clearer to me, and this thesis is an attempt to address it, by explaining that it is innovative and necessary to use anti-dominance training to accompany what I describe as an anti-colonial framework for student education in law schools. I define accompaniment as having an array of helpers and supports from Indigenous communities, law schools, and the legal profession in genuine partnership with Indigenous communities to promote legal community engagement and outreach for law students. Everyone needs anti-colonial training. The need for anti-colonial training in law school is the focus of my thesis. I posit that personal lived experience is not escapable, especially in the law school curriculum. This lived experience goes both ways when attempting to implement an anti-colonial framework to change law school education. Defining anti-colonialism can be difficult, because it is often confused with diversity initiatives meant to reduce the harm caused by settler colonialism, or what has been coined as “settler harm reduction” activities. Universities, including law schools, rely on typical diversification strategies, such as academic accommodation and so on, to heed the calls of deep transformation of contemporary Canadian society that are recommended by numerous government inquiries and reports. Although the settler harm reduction strategy is necessary, if left as the “catch-all” solution without doing more, such as addressing the cavities of systemic learning, this reliance on an assimilating veneer of change, although voluntary on the part of marginalized participants, reinforces a dominant system instead of changing it. Although diversification strategies are initially a formidable threat to shaking us all out of a systemic spell, we become once again spell bound under the ghosts of unarticulated embedded assumptions, especially those that haunt the law school curriculum. There is an antidote to this ‘spell-binding’. I focus on law school education because it teaches a system. Part of this antidote is that Indigenous peoples have a counternarrative to this system, a way of forcing this ghost out into the open. This counternarrative is unlike other marginalized peoples. True, we as Indigenous peoples have lost so much in terms of colonization, famine and legislated inequality (such as with Indian Act policies ) in our own lands, but we have evidence of nation to nation relationships between Indigenous nations and the Europeans. Put bluntly, the Treaties. Another part of this antidote is what I describe as the non-Indigenous stages of curiousness. For example, many Indigenous activists and legal scholars have toiled greatly and at length to bring issues, mostly untenable crises that affects Indigenous demographics all across Canada, to the forefront of public attention. But how do these issues quickly go from important “buzzwords” to cliché banality, such as reconciliation and decolonization? It may be that the average settler who hears such terms detaches from the underlying meaning because there is little to no access to lived experiences precisely because there is no access to systemic change through education. If we can partner in providing treaty informed lived experiences in all levels of education - that goes both ways - between nation to nation through communities, we can ensure a beneficial stage of curiousness that could prevent the radicalization of the settler. Dominant settler culture in modern Canada prevails without an anti-colonial awareness. Introducing new plans of action according to a new terminology is welcome. But what are we really trying to achieve with terms like Indigenization? What is its purpose? Are we changing the conversation or are we keeping the same racially subordinate narratives because we are using poorly understood terms? Or is it the poor understanding that is perpetuated by unconscious, and in some cases conscious, colonized perspectives in academia, especially when these terms rub up against traditions that inform the legal curriculum. This in turn has a parallel contemporary public conversation, as the media will turn to academics to elucidate on what is happening in current social and political events. Using the term anti-dominance in the experiential training of non-Indigenous and Indigenous law students, or any post-secondary students, is because it clarifies the process of learning mutual and equal partnership with Indigenous communities. There is a specter in academia that the dominant culture and the subordinate marginalized peoples are on either side of an invisible barrier. But the seeming transparency is a distraction, a “perceptual magnet” if you will, where neither side can simply walk through it. We need accompaniment as we attempt a paradigm detour in decolonizing the law curriculum with guidance and support from all forms of mentors, Indigenous and non-Indigenous. There is a risk of creating programs “just for” and “specifically geared towards” as these initiatives may become so exclusive, no one outside these limitations can weigh in substantively to contribute. For example, there is a great deal of research devoted in essence to teach someone not to be subordinate. But my question in this thesis is, is it possible to teach someone who benefits from the dominant culture in modern Canada, to not be dominant?
DegreeMaster of Laws (LL.M.)
CommitteeHoehn, Felix; Henderson, James (Sákéj) Youngblood; Borrows, John
Copyright DateSeptember 2020
effective Treaty education
emotions and the law
diversification strategies and initiatives
law school curriculum