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Today is not a day for celebration

Updated: Jul 1, 2021

Warning: This blog may be triggering, particularly for indigenous peoples and survivors and intergenerational survivors of residential schools. If you need support, the Indian Residential School Survivors Society (1-800-721-0066) and the IRS National Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) is available.

I received the Richard B. Lindsay QC Exceptional Young Lawyer Award from Canadian Defence Lawyers today. It was my intention to share the news widely on my social channels, as us lawyers usually do. However, I accept this award on this day with extremely mixed emotions. Of course I am proud of the accomplishment and delighted that wonderful people in this profession took the time out of their life to put together a nomination for me. But today is not a day for celebration. It is a day of mourning.

I grew up in a small community between Ottawa and Kingston. I was educated at Catholic schools. I have an honours undergraduate degree in History from the University of Ottawa. And yet, until recently, I knew next to nothing about Canada's history with residential "schools". Like many of settler origin, the discovery of bodies of 215 bodies at the residential school in Kamloops was surprising and appalling to me. Even more appalling was reading the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, and the section on residential schools in particular, and learning that the Indigenous communities in Canada had widely reported the stories of these schools, missing children, and that the Government of Canada declined the additional funding to investigate these graves when requested by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission previously.

Just hours before I received the award I watched the press conference held by the Cowessess First Nation regarding the discovery of unmarked graves at the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan. I listened to Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme announced that as of yesterday 751 unmarked graves have been found at the Marieval Indian Residential School. I listened to other speakers at the event who described their own experience as survivors of those institutions. I expect similar announcements and stories will continue to be shared over the next several months as Indigenous communities across the country are doing similar work to uncover the truth. It is time for those of us in a position of privilege to pay attention. To listen to Indigenous voices. And to assist in learning and sharing the whole truth.

Our little firm will be discussing ways that we can meaningfully make positive change. I'd like to thank our associate Leslie Anne St. Amour for taking the time to think of suggestions during this very challenging time. Some options include:

  • to push for the adoption of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action in areas where we have influence. For our firm, those areas where there are specific recommendations that were made include in the areas of justice, sports and business.

  • the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called upon the Federation of Law Societies of Canada to ensure that lawyers receive appropriate cultural competency training, which includes the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal– Crown relations. This call included the requirement for skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism. One way that firms can assist in this area is to put together resources on these subjects as part of their own onboarding practices, share them with other firms and to push the Federation of Law Societies and our provincial and territorial law societies to require this training.

There is lots that we can do. The first step is educating ourselves. This is a battle that has been fought alone by Indigenous peoples for far too long. I hope some of you will use your influence so that we can make real strides forward in attempting to heal Canada's relationship with Indigenous peoples.

We can hold off on our celebrations until the work is done.

Erin Durant

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