Aboriginal Student Law Conference Summary

“Wisdom is not just found in your own communities. Learn from others in the wider world. Bring those learnings back.”   - John Borrows, ASLC 2014

On Friday, November 7th, 2014 the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law was proud to host the Aboriginal Law Student Conference, an event which welcomed over 200 law and non-law students, educators, legal community members, and guest speakers and panellists from across the country, facilitating discussion about the Aboriginal law landscape and What’s on the Horizon.

The conference began with an opening prayer, drum, and smudge ceremony led by Elder Isabelle Mercier. Elder Isabelle MercierOpening remarks were delivered by Dean Lee Stuesser, followed by greetings brought forth by Chief Georjann Morriseau, Fort William First Nation, and Tim Pile, Métis Nation of Ontario.

Professor John BorrowsKeynote speaker Professor John Borrows, of the University of Victoria Faculty of Law, delivered the first talk of the day, much to the delight of our law students as his texts are mandatory reading during their first year. Borrows conveyed a thought-provoking message about Anishinaabe Law and Constitutionalism through storytelling.

Jean Teillet

Next, Jean Teillet, of Pape Salter Teillet LLP, spoke about “Aboriginal Law: Where are we and where are we going? Where do the Métis fit?”

The first of the day’s three panels addressed “Liberalism, Distributive Justice and Aboriginal Legal Issues” and welcomed Professor Gordon Christie of the University of British Columbia Faculty of Law, Professor Douglas 

Panelists Karen Drake, Douglas Sanderson, Gordon Christie

Sanderson of the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, and Professor Karen Drake of Lakehead University’s Bora Laskin Faculty of Law as panellists. The panel explored a range of issues, including doctrine of discovery, 

residential schools, indigenous interpretations of education, distributive justice, Liberal theory and Section 35 of the Charter, before opening the floor for questions.

Lunch was served in the gymnasium where attendees networked and mingled. Many of the students were eager to expand on the morning’s discussion points with the speakers and panellists.

Judicial panelThe second panel examined “Aboriginal Judicial Issues” and welcomed panellists Justice Harry LaForme of the Court of Appeal for Ontario, Justice Leonard (Tony) Mandamin of the Federal Court, and Justice Joyce Pelletier of the Ontario Court of Justice. Topics explored by the panel included minority representation, indigenous interpretations of justice, aboriginal dispute resolution, and the impact of the Supreme Court of Canada’s Gladue decision. “Judges have the responsibility to ensure that everyone who comes before the court has been heard, and knows they’ve been heard” – Justice Mandamin

Special guest speaker Ovide Mercredi, former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations was next to speak. His talk focused on “Treaty Principles and Contemporary Relevance”.

Environmental issues panel

The final panel of the day discussed “Sustainable Resource Development and Environmental Issues” and welcomed Professor Peggy Smith of Lakehead University’s Faculty of Natural Resources Management, and Professor Jason MacLean of Lakehead University’s Bora Laskin Faculty of Law as panellists.

Closing remarks were provided by Dean Stuesser, followed by a closing prayer by Elder Mercier. An evening reception and dinner was held at the Prince Arthur Hotel which featured a keynote address by Justice Harry LaForme who provided an illustrated history of Aboriginal law and legal issues, along with discussion on the role they play today and what role they will occupy as we look to the country’s future.

On behalf of the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law, we would like to extend our gracious appreciation to all who made the Aboriginal Student Law Conference possible – The Law Foundation of Ontario, The Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Mining & Exploration, Lakehead University, the Indigenous Law Students’ Association, the speakers, panellists, and facilitators, and all who attended.