Queen's Law

Faculty of Law
Faculty of Law

Queen’s visit to Akwesasne Mohawk Territory among Law’s Indigenous initiatives 

(November 1, 2017)

On November 3, Queen’s University community members will be visiting Akwesasne Mohawk Territory. As a part of the Law Faculty’s response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) recommendations, it will be partnering with the Akwesasne community to offer a full-day workshop on Indigenous culture and law to approximately 25 students, faculty and staff. 

Event founder, Assistant Dean Heather Cole, Law’96, says, “We wanted to ensure that the Queen’s community is fully engaged and, as responsible citizens, doing what we can to learn about both Indigenous law and culture.” 

The primary focus of the workshop is to learn from the Indigenous community itself. “We went to them and said, ‘We want to be more knowledgeable about your law and culture’,” says Cole. “The agenda was left to the community to create and we believe what is being proposed will be transformative for those that attend.”

As per the proposal, the day will consist of presentations within the A’nowara’ko:wa (“Big Turtle”) Arena by community members on various topics:  

  • The Akwesasne Court, learning about historical ways of resolving conflict, the court and restorative justice;
  • Legislation and its development and values of the Akwesasne;
  • Compliance/enforcement and restorative justice; and
  • Neh Kankonriio (“the good mind”) Council. 

“I think in light of Canada’s colonial past, and considering recent events (Canada’s acceptance of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the undertakings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to actions) the importance of such an event in law schools is evident,” says Kayla Stephenson, Law’18. She worked with the Akwesasne Justice Department as a summer legal intern for the Ministry of the Attorney General and is helping to put on the event. “Both Queen’s and the Akwesasne Justice Department are excited about this opportunity,” she adds.

“The response has been good,” says Indigenous Access Recruitment Coordinator Ann Deer. “It looks like students, faculty and staff would like to see this done every semester, not just every year.” 

The workshop is about informing the entire Queen’s community about Indigenous rights and issues. As Cole explains, “Indigenous culture is an integral part of being Canadian so we made sure that the experience was open to everyone at Queen’s Law, not just students but also faculty and staff.” 

There is also hope that the workshop will serve as a template for future Queen’s initiatives like weekend retreats and camps. “This is an important event,” says Deer, “and with the Assistant Dean and Dean embracing Indigenous initiatives, I see us going further and further, leading to more and more positive outcomes for everyone.” 

The Akwesasne workshop is only one example of the Indigenous initiatives being undertaken at Queen’s Law. The school held its first “coffee chat” hosted by Deer on September 29. There are four other coffee chats planned for this academic year during which law professors will give informal presentations, primarily on Indigenous issues. “It provides students, especially Indigenous students, an opportunity to talk about Indigenous topics that they may feel uncomfortable talking about in other settings,” says Deer. 

There are also cultural events being held weekly, says Lauren Winkler, Law’19. Winkler, who works as Deer’s assistant and as the Self-Identification Project Assistant at the Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre, formerly served as the Deputy Commissioner of Indigenous Affairs for the Alma Mater Society of Queen’s University, the President of the Queen’s Native Student Association and as a member of the Queen’s TRC Task Force. 

Drumming, beading and moccasin-making groups give Indigenous students “the ability to connect with our cultures and provide a greater sense of community,” says Winkler. “It is important to make such spaces.”

“All of the feedback I’ve received from participants has been positive,” she continues. “They are aware and encouraged by the fact that more is being done for Indigenous students.” She points to the fact that law professors are bringing in Indigenous speakers to speak about Indigenous issues and that Queen’s Law is offering a First Nations Negotiations course in the winter term taught by Mohawk entrepreneur and Dean’s Council member David Sharpe, Law’95, as a reason to be optimistic for future Queen’s Indigenous initiatives. 

Queen’s Law is also partnering with the Boys and Girls Club to launch a camp this summer as a part of a larger project to target under-represented groups in recruitment and outreach efforts. “We want to create a pipeline for students who have been traditionally under-represented in law schools. This includes Indigenous students,” says Cole. “We need lawyers who reflect the diversity of our country’s population. We are a service industry. Our clients need to feel they are well represented by people who can understand and appreciate their interests. We can accomplish this by infusing greater diversity into the practice.” 

The summer camp will be offered to children between the ages of 11 and 13. As Cole explains, “educational research tells us that success in post-secondary education is determined in middle school when children are at the greatest risk of dropping out. Reaching out to them early and instilling in them an appreciation for law starts them thinking not only about university as a possibility but also about law school and the law as a profession.”  During the camp, youngsters will be introduced to the Canadian legal landscape, including Indigenous legal issues. “If we can get young people thinking about law and the impact it has on their lives then who knows, we may even inspire some future Queen’s Law students.”

With these types of initiatives, “We hope that Indigenous students will make Queen’s their law school of choice” says Cole. Last year, only one Indigenous student entered the law program, however, this year, that number has shot up to 10. “We have made a commitment not only to recruit more Indigenous students but to ensure we support them while they are here. They need to know that they are an integral part of the Queen’s Law community. We want our school to be inclusive and welcoming to all,” Cole concludes. “I hope that all students find community here.” 

By Michael Adams