Truth and Reconciliation in the Legal Profession: A Primer on How to Be a Better Ally Regardless of Your Practice Area

  • October 21, 2022
  • Karlie Nordstrom and Leslie Anne St. Amour

On September 30, 2022, in recognition of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Leslie Anne St. Amour organized a webinar titled Reconciliation in the Legal Profession. The webinar consisted of a panel discussion between us (Leslie Anne and Karlie) and Derek James Mastin, which was moderated by Erin Durant (lawyer at Durant Barristers). The event was accredited by the Law Society of Ontario for 1.5 Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Professionalism Hours, and the recording is available for viewing via the password “September30”. Readers who access the recording are encouraged to donate to Aboriginal Legal Services to support the organization’s important mandate.

During the event, we shared some insights on a range of questions surrounding truth and reconciliation in the legal profession, to equip legal professionals in all practice areas with the knowledge necessary to play a more active role in truth and reconciliation. This article summarizes some of the key takeaways. 

Every legal professional and law firm has a role to play in advancing truth and reconciliation.

Regardless of your area of practice, you belong to a profession that has played a significant role in the historical and ongoing colonization of Turtle Island, and which continues to disproportionately harm and exclude Indigenous peoples. This truth must be acknowledged before we can begin to move toward reconciliation. And while your role in that reconciliation might look different depending on where you fit into the profession, we all have a role to play. Maybe yours will be in recruiting and retaining Indigenous talent, contributing time and capital to Indigenous organizations, or helping corporate clients navigate their relationships with First Nations in a more collaborative and culturally competent way. Take the time to consider the particular skills and resources you have to offer, and develop your action plan accordingly.

Terminology can be complicated, but it is important.

Aboriginal law refers to the laws of the Canadian state which are concerned with Indigenous people. Conversely, Indigenous law refers to the legal orders of Indigenous Nations. Some words which are generally considered offensive and unacceptable for common use, such as Indian, continue to hold legal meaning in Aboriginal law. Many First Nations prefer to be referred to as Nations, rather than as a “band,” although the concept of bands continues to exist within Canadian legislation. Finally, while Indigenous is generally the preferred umbrella term when referring to First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples collectively, it is typically considered a best practice to use more precise language when speaking about a particular Indigenous person, group, or community. When in doubt, ask the person or community how they would prefer to be referred to.