We have written previously about the various injustices and roadblocks faced by Alberta’s various First Nations communities in our provincial court system, as it applies to child intervention and guardianship matters, as well as our work with these communities, such as the Káínawa Blood Tribe, which we successfully represented in the Blood Tribe’s application to be granted intervenor standing in a guardianship matter involving a child of the Blood Tribe. Through our work with many of the province’s Indigenous communities, we are very familiar with the ongoing importance of evolving the justice system in this regard. 

On September 28th, in an attempt to take strides forward in this regard, the Chief Justice of the Provincial Court of Alberta announced the implementation of the Indigenous Justice Strategy. The Court has jurisdiction to oversee family matters, including private guardianship and all child protection cases in the province. The Strategy includes several key steps, the most significant being opening a new Indigenous Court in Edmonton. Like the Indigenous Court that opened in Calgary in 2019, however, this court will be limited to criminal matters, focused on restorative justice in bail and sentencing hearings. 

However, the overall Strategy includes twenty actions which will impact all matters heard by the Court going forward. The Court acknowledged that many strategies were influenced by the Calls to Action identified by the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in 2015. Below, we will review some of the key responses the Court will be implementing and provide an overview of a program aimed at educating Alberta lawyers about the interaction of Indigenous communities and the legal system.  

Key Responses in the Alberta Provincial Court’s Indigenous Justice Strategy

Chief Justice Derek Redman’s announcement noted that the court “did not want…another report. What we wanted was an action document”. As such, the Court has identified a list of 20 responses to the various concerns identified following two years of consultations with Indigenous leaders throughout Alberta and various legal and service organizations familiar with the challenges faced by First Nations in the province. The responses include:

  • Ensuring that court staff, including judges and justices of the peace, are provided education and resources to promote an understanding of:
    • The history, heritage, and laws of local Indigenous communities
    • An understanding of cultural activities as they relate to law and justice
    • Ensure that judges and justices of the peace have an understanding of the foundational legal principles that must be applied when overseeing legal matters involving Indigenous peoples
  • Ongoing engagement and relationship-building between the Court and Indigenous leadership and service providers. This engagement will consist of meetings on, at minimum, an annual basis with the leadership of Treaty 6, 7, and 8, and the Métis Nation of Alberta and the Métis Settlements.
  • The incorporation of traditional Indigenous cultural practices into court proceedings where appropriate.
  • Undertaking ongoing efforts to gain a better understanding on the various impediments to access to justice for Indigenous peoples in Alberta.
  • Implementing strategic hiring plans to employ more Indigenous people in the court system, such as encouraging applications at all levels and providing mentorship opportunities for Indigenous lawyers and students. 
  • Observing the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation by limiting court functions to essential services only each year. 

Law Society of Alberta Requiring All Active Lawyers to Undergo Cultural Training 

The Law Society of Alberta, the organization which licences and oversees all practicing lawyers in the province, mandated the completion of The Path in 2021. The Path is a continuing education program with a focus on Indigenous Cultural Competency Education created by NVision Insight Group, an organization based in Ottawa and run by Indigenous peoples to support positive change in Canada’s justice systems. 

The course consists of five modules, which have been modified to include Alberta-specific content by NVision, in collaboration with the Law Society’s Indigenous Initiatives Counsel. The topics covered are as follows:

  1. The first section provides information on the history of local Indigenous communities, including First Nations, Inuit, and the Métis Nation, as well as the various names used for various groups. This module aims to demystify the use of these terms by providing context and understanding about the appropriate use of these words. 
  2. The second module provides information of the origin stories and legal and cultural practices of First Nations in Alberta, and how various Inuit regions have been shaped via the land claim process.
  3. The third module discusses the colonial history of Indigenous peoples in Canada, and the various hardships presented by practices such as forced relocations, and the “Sixties Scoop”, in which many Indigenous children were taken from their homes and placed with Caucasian families. This module includes a focus on Alberta-specific instances of colonialism with respect to Indigenous communities, as well as the resilience of these communities in the face of oppression. 
  4. The fourth module focuses on the intersection of Indigenous communities and Alberta’s legal and justice systems. It includes an overview of historic treaties, as well as various efforts of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities to assert their rights, both in the past and ongoing. 
  5. The final module is centered on relationship-building between the legal community and Alberta’s Indigenous peoples, by focusing on communication and cultural awareness. This section is aimed at helping lawyers to advance the societal goal of reconciliation by helping them to restore and foster positive relationships with Indigenous clients and by working with various Indigenous organizations.

The course takes approximately five hours, and all active lawyers in Alberta have until October 20, 2022, to complete it (or qualify for an exemption). 

Contact Mincher Koeman for Knowledgeable and Trusted Legal Advice on Indigenous Legal Matters Including Child Intervention and Guardianship

The family law lawyers at Mincher Koeman regularly work with and represent First Nations on child protection matters. We are passionate advocates of the rights of First Nation children to maintain cultural and community connections throughout the child welfare process. We understand how the system works, and we know how to effectively challenge or advocate at each stage. If your family has become by the child intervention process, or you are seeking guardianship of a child who is the subject of an intervention, please contact our office to discuss your options by calling us at 403-910-3000 or by contacting us online.

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707 7 Ave SW #1300,
Calgary, AB T2P 3H6

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621 10 St #101
Canmore, AB T1W 2A2

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