Canadian law students share a passion for Aboriginal rights

Law students typically practise mooting – arguing hypothetical cases – to hone their advocacy skills. The competitions usually are just that, competitions with a clear victor. The Kawaskimhon 2006 National Aboriginal Rights Moot is not your typical moot.

To begin with, the teams from 11 law schools across Canada that participated in the moot on March 3 and 4 at the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres, in Toronto, share a passion for Aboriginal rights. They gathered to discuss, debate and embrace Aboriginal distinctiveness, cultural awareness, equality and self-determination, as well as the empowerment of Aboriginal people. The moot, which has been held annually since 1995, is a national event with Canadian law schools taking turn to host the event.

Right: Osgoode Hall Law School Professor Stepan Wood with Elder Vern Harper of the Cree Nation at the opening March 2 of the Kawaskimhon Aboriginal Rights Moot hosted by Osgoode at the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres on Front Street East. Students from 11 Canadian law schools participated in the moot, which ran from March 2 to 4.

And unlike typical moots with winners and losers, this is a non-competitive event in which the students sat in a large circle for two days, hear each other’s presentations, and seek to reach a consensus on the legal and policy issues arising from the moot problem. This year’s problem was based loosely on an actual legal case in Ontario concerning a labour relations dispute at a casino operated on an Indian Reserve. Four facilitators, representing the four directions, also sat in the circle to help participants to reach a consensus.

Organized by York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School and the Osgoode Indigenous Students Association, and sponsored by the Department of Justice Canada and the Law Foundation of Ontario, the format of the Kawaskimhon moot “respects and incorporates Aboriginal values and concepts of dispute resolution,” says Osgoode Professor Benjamin J. Richardson, noting that more than 60,000 Aboriginal people reside in Toronto alone.

“It also offers Aboriginal students and those who endorse Aboriginal rights a culturally appropriate learning environment for legal education. The belief is that the students will bring a unique perspective, analysis and understanding of the issues debated and will ‘speak with knowledge’, which is the meaning of Kawaskimhon.”

Elder Vern Harper of the Cree Nation formally opened the moot on Thursday, March 2 during a ceremony that took place 6.30pm. Following the opening ceremony participants were treated to a performance by the Aboriginal women drumming group Spirit Wind.