Senator Patti LaBoucane-Benson visits Law Centre Friday to discuss Indigenous healing programs

Academic and politician is a guest at the Indigenous Law Students' Association 2020 Speaker Series

Sarah Kent - 04 March 2020

Senator Patti LaBoucane-Benson is a speaker at the final event of the Indigenous Law Students' Association's 2020 Speaker Series on March 6.

LaBoucane-Benson, '09 PhD, will discuss her career-long work with Indigenous offenders and healing lodges in Alberta and how she made her knowledge accessible through a graphic novel.

LaBoucane-Benson transformed her doctoral research into the award-winning graphic novel, The Outside Circle, published in 2015. Its story follows the Indigenous protagonist Pete Carver as he heals from historic trauma and intergenerational violence while rebuilding relationships with his mother, Bernice, and brother, Joey.

"Pete, Joey and Bernice's story is a composite of so many people I have worked with, had a chance to know, or were participants in my research project," said LaBoucane-Benson.

"That story was the easiest story to write."

The graphic novel is a teaching tool for the "In Search of Your Warrior" program, a holistic healing program led by Elders for incarcerated or conditionally released Indigenous men at the Stan Daniels Healing Centre in Edmonton. LaBoucane-Benson has worked with Native Counselling Services of Alberta, which runs the healing centre, for more than 20 years.

The program is based on the Cree legal principle of wahkohtowin and "caring, sharing, kindness, respect, love, honesty and self-determination," writes LaBoucane-Benson in her dissertation.

"The foundation of my PhD was my own healing journey, which helped me to recognize the journey of other people as well," she said.

The Outside Circle incorporates traditional teachings into the story to help readers who may be on their own healing journeys to seek miyopimatisiwin, the Cree concept of the good life.

The novel is also educational for non-Indigenous readers, who may be learning about Canada's colonial history and its ongoing legacies.

"Art and storytelling are tools of reconciliation," said LaBoucane-Benson.

LaBoucane-Benson was appointed to the Senate in 2018 as an independent senator and was named government liaison in January 2020. She serves as the first Indigenous woman to hold a Senate leadership position.

"It is an honour to sit as a senator for Canada," said LaBoucane-Benson.

Building good relationships, as she explains, is crucial to her position.

"I think about all the rules of wahkohtowin that I have learned, what I have learned in ceremony about relationships," said LaBoucane-Benson. "In my liaison position, it is all about relationships."

"I think the things I have learned from Elders is very applicable to the things I do in the Senate."

LaBoucane-Benson's talk begins at noon in McLennan Ross Hall on Friday, March 6.