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.”
The Law Society of Saskatchewan (the “Society”) recognizes the significance of the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and is committed to implementing the Calls to Action that came out of that work. As such, the Benchers approved the creation of a Truth and Reconciliation Advisory Group on June 22, 2018 to guide the Society’s efforts in this area.
Several of the other Calls to Action, while not specifically directed at the legal profession, relate to legal issues currently impacting Indigenous people and the Society acknowledges that the legal profession will have a role to play in their implementation.
The Society is committed to facilitating the implementation of the Calls to Action as they relate to its mandate to regulate the legal profession in the public interest, including its duty to protect the public by assuring the integrity, knowledge, skill, proficiency and competence of members. The Society recognizes that its work in this area will be ongoing and will need to be informed by Indigenous people.
The Truth and Reconciliation Advisory Group provides advice to the Society on issues within the mandate of the Society affecting Indigenous people in Saskatchewan. The Advisory Group achieves this purpose by assisting the Society in understanding the needs of its current and prospective Indigenous members, and Indigenous people both in the regulatory processes of the Society and in the Saskatchewan legal system and makes recommendations to the Society on how to address those needs.
To learn more about the Truth and Reconciliation process, please check out our additional resources.