Professor Mark S. Dockstator presents his Lederman Lecture on “Reconciliation in Canada: Difference Perspectives” at Queen’s Law on February 5. (Photo by Andrew Van Overbeke)
Professor Mark S. Dockstator presents his Lederman Lecture on “Reconciliation in Canada: Difference Perspectives” at Queen’s Law on February 5. (Photo by Andrew Van Overbeke)

“Reconciliation,” a term that’s much discussed these days because of a game-changing confluence of events and a growing public awareness of Indigenous rights, confounds many Canadians. However, according to Professor Mark S. Dockstator, that doesn’t have to be the case.

As the inaugural William R. Lederman Visitor to Queen’s Law sees it, understanding Reconciliation and building a conceptual framework that will help all sides come to grips with the key issues is really all a matter of perspective. 

Dockstator explained why he feels this way during a visit to campus (January 30–February 6). He took part in the First Nations Negotiations course taught by David Sharpe, Law’95, taught a two-day immersive session on Indigenous legal traditions and delivered the inaugural William R. Lederman Lecture on the theme “Reconciliation in Canada: Difference Perspectives.” 

A member of the Oneida Nation of the Thames (near London, Ontario), he was the first Indigenous person in Canada to earn a doctorate in law (writing an LLD thesis at Osgoode Hall entitled “Toward an Understanding of Aboriginal Self-Government”). In addition to teaching at Trent University, since 2014 he has served as President of the First Nations University of Canada, located in Saskatchewan.    

In his Lederman Lecture, Dockstator explained that seeking a “360-degree vision” of any issue is central to the Indigenous approach to life and to problem solving. “To really understand something, you have to walk around it and get to know it. That’s sometimes called respect,” he said.

To illustrate his point, Dockstator used the vision of a house as a metaphor. A passerby sees only the side of the dwelling that faces the street. But those who walk around the house and view all four walls with “caring eyes” will have a markedly different perspective and a far deeper knowledge of that house. The history of Indigenous-Canadian relations is analogous. “It’s one history, but from an Indigenous point of view there really are four different perspectives,” he said. 

There’s the “familiar” Eurocentric one – akin to a superficial, “drive-by” impression of that figurative house – that’s premised on the notion Canada was founded and built only by the English and French; Indigenous people had no role to play. A second perspective is that Indigenous people will gradually become assimilated and will lose their distinct identities. A third perspective, which began emerging in the 1970s, was advanced by a growing Indigenous self-awareness, a rising tide of First Nations self-government, and a nascent recognition by the courts of the validity of legal issues being raised by Indigenous people. And the fourth perspective is that any interaction between Canada and First Nations peoples should be nation-to-nation. “A new paradigm is emerging,” said Dockstator. It involves recognition of all four perspectives and the notion that Reconciliation involves “Four R’s”on the part of Indigenous people – resistance, resilience, renaissance, and recognition.  

Dockstator’s innovative ideas resonated with his lecture audience. “The issues he talked about are ones that are in my blood, part of my life since I was born,” said Stacia Loft, Law’20, a member of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte (near Deseronto, Ontario).

Isabelle Crew, Law’18, who’s non-Indigenous but is striving to develop an understanding of the dynamics of the legal interactions between companies and Indigenous Peoples in advance of articling at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, immersed herself in Dockstator’s two-day Indigenous Legal Traditions course and took in his Lederman Lecture. “I found it tremendously informative. The lecture served as a connecting piece that helped me develop a framework for viewing the complex issues involved in Reconciliation,” Crew said. “That will be useful to me as I go forward in my legal career.”     

The William R. Lederman Visitorship was established with a generous donation from the Honourable Hugh Landerkin, QC, Law’67, in September 2017. Through the visitorship, which commemorates the school’s first Dean, distinguished individuals of national or international renown in law are brought to Queen’s for short-term visits, engaging in the intellectual life of the Faculty.  

By Ken Cuthbertson