Indigenous relationship-building event for first-year law students hosted at Enoch Cree Nation

First time that University of Alberta’s Foundations to Law class held in a First Nation

Helen Metella - 21 September 2021

On September 10, the first-year class of the University of Alberta Faculty of Law gathered in a unique classroom — outdoors under the stunning wooden arbour at the old powwow grounds of Maskêkosihk (Enoch Cree Nation).  

Thanks to the generosity and hospitality of Enoch Cree Nation, 180 1L students participated in a full day of experiential learning about Indigenous laws and legal issues as a component of their introductory Foundations to Law course.

The day started with a pipe ceremony led by Elder Rick Lightning, followed by welcoming remarks from Chief Billy Morin and Dean Barb Billingsley. The Enoch Cultural Department’s Rocky Morin and Jade Tootosis from the Wahkohtowin Law and Governance Lodge were masters of ceremonies.  

The pipe ceremony immediately moved many students, both non-Indigenous and Indigenous. 

“I never knew that the pipe was present at the signing ceremonies between Indigenous people and settlers and that this signified commitment from Indigenous peoples,” said student Luke Van Bostelen. Added Janine Nanimahoo, a member of Big Stone Cree First Nation, “for the students to actually see how it is done and relate that to the signing of the Treaty was powerful.”

Blanket Exercise

Students then participated in a law-focused adaptation of the KAIROS blanket exercise facilitated by Koren Lightning-Earle, a lawyer with the Wahkohtowin Law and Governance Lodge and a Faculty of Law instructor and alumni, and Associate Professor Hadley Friedland. 

The law-focused blanket exercise is a participatory workshop that walked the group through hundreds of years of Canadian and Indigenous legal history in order to understand the impact of law, legislation and policy on Indigenous peoples. 

“What stood out to me through the blanket exercise was the weaponization, manipulation and violation of law to preserve institutions of privilege,” said student Hassan Ahmed. 

Métis law student Megan Reti said that by first freely roaming on an expanse of blankets and then eventually being “trapped on a tiny corner of restricted space” was a far more effective lesson on Indigenous history than reading a textbook. She added, “Watching the respect and empathy my non-Indigenous classmates displayed while learning about the history of my people, as well as other Indigneous groups, was reassuring.”

During a lunch catered by the local Enoch business Cree Subs, Enoch Interim Chief Operating Officer Scarlett Papin shared her personal story of how the residential school experience created  intergenerational trauma and her vision for Enoch Child and Family Services law-making. 

“By being exposed to this knowledge, as a law student and a human being, I hold the obligation to share these facts with others and to spread awareness for reconciliation,” said student Sereena Dosanjh.

The day was brought to a close with a giveaway ceremony and honour song.

“Participating in the blanket exercise on Enoch Cree Nation lands was a unique and powerful learning introduction to Indigenous law and history for our students,” said Dean Billingsley. 

“I am extremely grateful to the Enoch Cree Nation for hosting us and to the Wahkohtowin Law and Governance Lodge for helping to organize this event."

The Indigenous relationship-building event is one of the Faculty’s responses to Call #28 in the 94 Calls to Action of the “2015 Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.” It was the idea of Lightning-Earle. 

“It was an incredibly powerful experience to be so warmly welcomed by Maskêkosihk (Enoch Cree Nation) and witness our incoming students learning directly from our hosts,” said Friedland.