Queen's Law

Faculty of Law
Faculty of Law

Queen’s Law student wins national competition for best Indigenous law essay       

(July 9, 2018)

Don Couturier, MPA’17/Law’19, author of the award-winning essay “Walking Together: Indigenous ADR in Land and Resource Disputes” that leaves readers with these parting thoughts: “Once we learn to walk together on this path, new possibilities will emerge for a shared future.”
Don Couturier, MPA’17/Law’19, author of the award-winning essay “Walking Together: Indigenous ADR in Land and Resource Disputes” that leaves readers with these parting thoughts: “Once we learn to walk together on this path, new possibilities will emerge for a shared future.”

Don Couturier, MPA’17/Law’19, a student considering graduate studies in an area related to Indigenous law, may be a step closer in making his decision. “I wanted to try my hand at getting my ideas out into the public domain to see what kind of traction they would get, to contribute to public conversation in some small way, and perhaps offer a viewpoint that others hadn’t considered,” he says.

His timing was perfect as the Canadian Bar Association’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Section had just established a new award, the James L. Thistle Q.C. Law Student Essay Competition. Four months after submitting his paper, “Walking Together: Indigenous ADR in Land and Resource Disputes,” Couturier received the good news that he won the inaugural award for the best scholarly essay.  

In the winning paper, Couturier explores possibilities for navigating conflict between First Nations and the Crown, using Indigenous laws, values and mechanisms for dispute resolution.

Using the example of land and resource management, he argues that not only is Indigenous dispute resolution custom-tailored to the local context a more just approach to resolving these disputes, but also that it has the potential to facilitate reconciliation by fostering legal and cultural pluralism based on mutual respect and recognition.

“I emphasize how the different and varied worldviews of Indigenous nations should be embraced, not diluted, in the respectful and conscientious design of these processes,” he says.

“As Indigenous communities and scholars continue to revitalize and strengthen their legal orders, it’s equally important that legal scholarship reflect critically on how the common and civil law can create meaningful space for Indigenous law,” he continues. “The best way to do that, in my view, is to think creatively about the possibilities and then find practical and realistic proposals for bringing them to fruition.” 

For winning the award, Couturier received a cash prize and his winning essay is featured on the CBA Alternative Dispute Resolution section website.

Couturier originally wrote the paper for his fall 2017 Alternative Dispute Resolution class taught by Colm Brannigan, a sessional instructor who is also a practising mediator and arbitrator.

Calling the paper “a very significant and common sense contribution” to the literature in the subject area, Brannigan says, “Don’s article makes it clear that the development of a wider approach to the use of ADR processes can be achieved by recognizing mainstream ADR process do not fit or work to their potential in the Indigenous context. The reason is because of the ‘expert’ approach of imposing the model rather than designing ADR systems that incorporate the value and needs of Indigenous culture.

“This type of innovative work encourages ADR practitioners to be reflective and remember that much of the potential of ADR rests in its flexibility,” Brannigan adds. “Queen’s Law should be extremely proud of Don Couturier’s valuable contribution to the emerging field of Indigenous ADR.” 

By Aschille Clarke-Mendes