Decolonizing Legal Learning: Moving forward on Call to Action 28 at the Common Law Section

Faculty of Law - Common Law Section
Common Law Section
Indigenous law

By Common Law

Communication, Faculty of Law

Decolonizing Legal Learning
In 2007, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established to document the experiences of those affected by the terrible legacy of Canada’s residential schools system. In an effort to engage and educate the Canadian public the TRC released its final report in 2015 with 94 “calls to action” – recommendations designed to facilitate reconciliation between Canadians and Indigenous Peoples.

Among the calls to action is a specific recommendation for law schools – Call to Action 28 – which urges Canada’s faculties of law to provide students with a course on Indigenous people and the law. Law schools are asked to cover the history and impact of the residential schools system, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the history of Indigenous rights and treaties, Indigenous law and legal traditions, and Indigenous-Crown relations. Call to Action 28 also calls for skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights and anti-racism.

In a new video, Professors Aimée Craft, Signa Daum Shanks and Angela Cameron – who are engaging with students in the English Common Law Program – explain how the Common Law Section at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law has chosen to respond to Call to Action 28, recognizing the unique role that lawyers have to play in meaningful reconciliation. They explore how the Common Law Section is choosing to be part of the problem-solving in a variety of ways.

The Common Law Section’s efforts to implement this new part of the curriculum brought mandatory course modules to all first-year students in 2023. Choosing to connect students directly with the unceded Anishinaabe-Algonquin territory on which the University of Ottawa is built, the instructors chose to base their modules around the Seven Sacred Teachings, common to many Anishinaabe nations. Using this framework, the instructors approached their lessons through understandings of truth, courage, and love, encouraging students to show humility and respect – attitudes that can lead to what is known in Anishinaabe language as minobimaadiziwin, or a good life.

In a second video, Professors Aimée Craft and Anne Levesque – who are engaging with students in the French Common Law Program – explore how all Canadians have a role to play in reconciliation. They describe how the first cohort of students not only explored the history and effects of Canada’s colonial past in the classroom, but were given the opportunity to visit sites around Ottawa to gain new perspectives on what these spaces mean in the context of Canada’s relationship with Indigenous Peoples.

The modules offered to first-year students are just a small part of a much larger plan outlined by the Indigenous Legal Traditions Committee, known as the Pathways Plan. The Pathways Plan sets out to decolonize the curriculum, not just through the first-year modules, but by offering teaching and learning opportunities to law professors in every field so that they may incorporate these materials, tools and a sense of curiosity into all of the law school’s lesson offerings at all levels of study. In addition to developing teaching components, the plan engages in reconciliation through community building and support structures offered to students and faculty members. The ultimate goal is to make these forms of learning available to everyone throughout their legal learning experience.

As future lawyers, today’s law students have a distinct responsibility to address Canada’s legacy of harm, and to plan for the future of reconciliation. Through these lessons, students are learning how to recognize Indigenous law, how to ask important questions about the implementation of the TRC’s recommendations, and how to do important legal research and writing around Indigenous-Crown relations. Ultimately, these teachings provide students with a new appreciation for how the word “justice” can be understood.