Indigenous Law Students’ Association to host 22nd annual speaker series

Running March 4-8, the event features US judge Sheldon Spotted Elk, alumna Eleanore Sunchild and many others

Caitlin Crawshaw - 26 February 2024

ilsa-executive.jpgWith the theme “Reconciling the Law After the Storm,” this year’s Indigenous Law Students’ Association speaker series at the University of Alberta Faculty of Law builds on the success of last year’s event, “Having the Courage to Face the Storm.” 

“Last year was focused on the struggles and challenges experienced by Indigenous individuals who have dealt with the Canadian legal system and those who navigated through law school and embarked on their legal careers,” says Neal Ruth, a second-year law student who co-chaired this year’s event with first-year law student Dana Ledger. “This year, we’re focusing on bringing about more positive change and what we can do to embrace that change.”

That’s why ILSA decided to focus this year’s event on the idea of multi-juridicalism — that is, the integration of multiple legal cultures. In a Canadian context, the concept is a way to “breathe new life” into existing legal frameworks by integrating traditional Indigenous laws and knowledge. 

Ruth explains that not only did Canada’s colonial powers impose a system of law and governance on Indigenous peoples, but they also removed the legal systems and cultures that had existed for generations. This was largely accomplished with the residential school system, which devastated Indigenous language and knowledge systems. 

“Now, a lot of Indigenous communities are actively trying to bring back those legal cultures and languages, and re-engage with them,” he explains.

Created in 2002, the speaker series explores the historic and continuing legal issues facing Indigenous communities across Canada and beyond, while engaging with both Indigenous students and the community at large. 

This year’s event kicks off on March 4 with Cree-Metis lawyer Lisa Weber, ‘‘99 LLB, who will speak about her experiences with several First Nations and their journey toward resuming jurisdiction for child and family well-being according to their own laws. 

Weber’s talk will reference the recent Supreme Court decision to uphold the constitutionality of   Bill C-92, which recognizes the inherent right of Indigenous communities to exercise jurisdiction and control of child and family services. The bill was passed into law in 2019, but the Quebec Court of Appeal ruled portions of the bill unconstitutional in February 2022, sparking a constitutional challenge. 

Fellow alumna Eleanore Sunchild, ‘98 LLB, of the Thunderchild First Nation in Saskatchewan, will take the stage on March 5 for a talk entitled, “Lessons Learned Thus Far Being An Indigenous Woman Lawyer in a Colonial System and Stories of Healing and Love.” 

On March 6, Judge Gerald Morin, a member of Saskatchewan’s Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation, will speak about Indigenous Courts in Canada and how they’re helping shape a multi-juridical future. In 2001, Morin was the first Cree-speaking person appointed to the Provincial Court of Saskatchewan, where he helped establish a Cree court circuit and remained until 2023. Morin has also served as a Deputy Judge in the Territorial Court of the Northwest Territories and the Territorial Court of the Yukon, and was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2022.

Anishinaabe lawyer Darian Baskatawang — Associate and Class Counsel to the First Nations Drinking Water Class Action settlement agreement — will take the stage on March 7. 

The series concludes on March 8 with American Sheldon Spotted Elk. A member of the Tsistas (Northern Cheyenne) Tribe, Spotted Elk has served as Chief Judge for the Ute Indian Tribal Court in Utah since 2019 and will share his experiences as a judge in the US and discuss the Indigenous Tribal Courts of the US.

Ruth hopes this year’s event will receive as much positive engagement as last year’s series. “We’re hoping people will come away with a better understanding of Indigenous issues within a legal framework, as well as the progress that’s being made, and the direction the Canadian legal system is heading,” he adds. 

The 2024 ILSA Speaker Series is supported by the ATCO Endowment in Aboriginal Law, the Alberta Law Foundation, the University of Alberta Faculty of Law, and the Law Students’ Association.

The series runs March 4-8, from 12-1 p.m., at McLennan Ross Hall and online. Lunch will be provided to in-person attendees. For more information or to register for the 2024 speaker series, see the website.