Profs. Hadley Friedland and Tamara Pearl receive federal funding to address gender-based violence against Indigenous WGT2S+ persons

The SSHRC-WAGE grant supports research that will establish a model for Indigenous legal lodges

Carmen Rojas - 10 May 2023

Professors Hadley Friedland and Tamara Pearl of the University of Alberta Faculty of Law are part of a team that is receiving $700,000 in research funding to support a project addressing access to justice and gender-based violence against Indigenous women, girls, trans and two-spirit+ (WGT2S+) persons.

The project, titled “Building Indigenous Legal Lodges: Restoring Access to Justice and Preventing Violence Against Indigenous Women, Girls, Trans, and Two-Spirit+,” was selected to receive funding through the Social Sciences and the Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and Women and Gender Equality Canada’s Gender-Based Violence Research Initiative.

“It’s incredibly meaningful to have received funding that will support us pursuing this work,” says Friedland, who is a co-director of the project. “It is encouraging SSHRC can see the potential for Indigenous laws to restore access to justice and safety for Indigenous WGT2S+ persons in Canada.”

“As an Indigenous woman and academic, my heart is warmed by this remarkable opportunity to nourish change-making and sustainable partnerships that are dedicated to [this work],” says Pearl.

A bold reimagining

Over the next four years, Friedland and Pearl will work closely with project director Julie Kaye from the University of Saskatchewan, as well as researchers from the Universities of Victoria, Toronto and Windsor and community members from the Standing Together organization, to bring the project’s vision to life.

“Access to justice for Indigenous WGT2S+ persons in Canada requires expansion and bold reimagining to be meaningful and effective in preventing gender-based violence,” the researchers write in their project proposal.

This reimagining will include establishing a replicable model of Indigenous legal lodges, which Friedland will build alongside the project’s community partners and interdisciplinary team.

Indigenous legal lodges, as Friedland explains, are “intentionally safer spaces where people with lived experience of colonial gendered violence can collaboratively draw on their own wisdom and experiences, as well as Indigenous legal resources, to identify pathways toward greater safety, justice and healing.”

Pearl, as a co-applicant on the project, will focus on supporting the Indigenous and community-led aspects of their work. “To be involved in such an interdisciplinary collaboration will generate unparalleled opportunities to explore wahkohtowin and Indigenous laws while addressing gaps in anti-racism and decolonial resources,” she says.

Standing together

Friedland and Pearl have already begun laying the groundwork for the work ahead. This includes planning with their partners at Standing Together, which is a grassroots urban organization that primarily supports family members of missing and murdered Indigenous WGT2S+ persons.

Lorette Goulet, co-founder of Standing Together, says there needs to be a different approach to legal matters because Indigenous people are not well represented within the legal system.

“It’s wonderful to have the support of some very hard-working legal minds and the other people who are supporting everyone affected by this violence,” she says. “It’s a big mountain we have to climb. However, there has to be a starting point. And from that starting point, we can create all kinds of new ways to look at what is there and to assist in overcoming those difficulties. Who knows how far we can go?”

The Faculty’s Wahkohtowin Law and Governance Lodge, of which Friedland is the academic director and co-founder, and Pearl is a fellow, started partnering with Standing Together earlier this year. They co-hosted two events at the law school, “Holding Space for Cindy Gladue,” which brought together academic and community members to centre Cindy Gladue’s value and dignity while providing a safe space for her loved ones, using Cree legal principles. They also held a teach-in to illuminate the broader systemic issues and injustices that this project will address.

Both Friedland and Pearl emphasize that strong connections to and collaboration with the community is integral to their research.

“Community-led research is essential to ensure Indigenous legal research is responsive to community goals and draws on the strengths and knowledges in community,” says Friedland. “Everyone brings their own gifts.”

“I find it incredibly important as an Indigenous scholar to work in collaboration with community partners, as this is aligned with the Calls for Justice spotlighted in the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls,” adds Pearl. “I am honoured to go forward on this project with such dynamic partnerships.”