Canada’s Residential School System for Aboriginal children was a government-sponsored education system created to separate Aboriginal children from their families and cultural heritage, thereby assimilating them into Euro-Canadian society. The schools were in existence for more than 100 years, during which time approximately 30 percent of Indigenous children, or roughly 150,000, were placed in residential schools nationally. It is estimated that 6,000 of these students died while in attendance.
The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA) was the result of the largest class-action lawsuit in Canada’s history, which recognized the damage inflicted by the residential schools and established a multi-billion-dollar fund to help former students in their recovery. As part of the IRSSA, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) was created. The TRC spent six years travelling to all parts of Canada to hear from survivors, resulting in the release of the Calls to Action Report in June 2015. The Calls to Action Report outlines 94 areas that need to be addressed as part of the reconciliation process.
Call to Action #27 specifically addresses the legal profession and states:
“We call upon the Federation of Law Societies of Canada to ensure that lawyers receive appropriate cultural competency training, which includes 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. This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.”
Recognizing the importance of Canada’s Indigenous peoples and the advancement of reconciliation, the Law Society of Saskatchewan has committed to responding to Call to Action #27. We have developed several Continuing Professional Development programs to offer cultural competency training and will continue to develop further resources. Much of this work will be guided by our recently-formed TRC Advisory Group, made up of members of the Indigenous community in Saskatchewan. The mandate of the Advisory Group is to provide advice to the Law Society on issues within the mandate of the Law Society affecting Indigenous people in Saskatchewan, including assisting the Law Society to understand the needs of its current and prospective Indigenous members and Indigenous people both in the regulatory processes of the Law Society and in the Saskatchewan legal system and making recommendations to address those needs. The Advisory Committee will commence its work in early 2019.
To learn more about the Truth and Reconciliation process, please check out our additional resources.