Miriam Kresivo, QC
June 21, 2018

June 21st is National Indigenous Peoples Day, a day to recognize and celebrate the histories, diverse cultures, and contributions of First Nations, Inuit and M├ętis peoples in Canada. The day was chosen by Indigenous organizations and the Government of Canada in recognition that several communities hold their own rituals to celebrate the longest day of the year. Today, across the country and BC, festivals and events commemorate the traditions and contributions of Indigenous peoples who are the original keepers of the land on which we live and work.

The Law Society has special reasons to celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day this year. Last month, Karen Snowshoe became the first Indigenous woman elected as a Bencher for the Law Society. In April, Claire Marshall was appointed a Bencher by the provincial government, adding her experience in Aboriginal relations and her perspective on how to improve relationships with Aboriginal communities to our meetings and decisions. Earlier this year, we renewed our Truth and Reconciliation Advisory Committee, co-chaired by Grand Chief Ed John. The work of that committee, in conjunction with the Continuing Legal Education Society of BC, received international recognition for the 2017 Truth and Reconciliation Symposium, including the video “But I Was Wearing a Suit” from the Association of Continuing Legal Education.

At the annual Benchers retreat this year, we took steps to improve our own understanding of the unique world view of Indigenous peoples. Dr. Jeanette Armstrong spoke to us about Indigenous laws. Dr. Marie Wilson, commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, provided insight into her experience with the commission that can direct our efforts to support the calls to action. At the same time as the retreat, the provincial government held its Justice Summit on the relationship between Indigenous people and the justice system, where the Law Society was represented by Dean Lawton, QC, and Adam Whitcombe.

These meetings are important not only for what was on the agenda, but also because of the opportunity they offer to listen to each other, learn new perspectives and build relationships. I came away from Osoyoos with a deeper appreciation of the history and traditions of the original peoples who lived here, and even greater resolve to reconciliation of our collective history and traditions.

We also celebrate the achievements that others in the justice system have made to make law more responsive to Indigenous world views, and to Indigenous peoples’ experiences with the justice system. The Allard School of Law at UBC and TRU Law have been doing important work in this area, and, beginning this September, UVic Law will begin intake of its first class of students for its joint common law and Indigenous legal orders program. The program is the first of its kind in the world and will benefit such areas as environmental protection, Indigenous governance, economic development, housing, child protection and education to build productive partnerships and understanding across two legal systems.

These milestones and developments are signs of how our legal institutions are changing for the better. As the regulator of the profession in BC, the Law Society can facilitate reconciliation by incorporating recognition of, and respect for, Indigenous perspectives in all our regulatory functions: establishing the requirements for admission to the profession, determining the ongoing education needs of lawyers, and drafting and enforcing the rules that govern the profession. We can also advance reconciliation by ensuring the Law Society engages more with Indigenous communities, improves intercultural competency of the profession, builds stronger and trusting relationships with Indigenous people, and welcomes more Indigenous lawyers into the profession.

National Indigenous Peoples Day offers each of us similar opportunities. I encourage everyone in the profession to join one of the many celebrations of Indigenous peoples across the province, whether at Lheidli T’enneh Memorial Park in Prince George, the Museum and Discovery Centre in Rossland, Holland Park in Surrey, Trout Lake in Vancouver, or countless other locations. As you do, take a moment to reflect on the progress we’ve made to date, and what you can do to help ensure our justice system accommodates and respects Indigenous peoples.