By Chevi Rabbit
For Ponoka News
All lawyers in Alberta will take Indigenous Cultural Competency training starting in early 2021 as part of the Law Society of Alberta’s response to the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
In an official statement by Law Society of Alberta president Kent Teskey says the new mandate will give lawyers a “base understanding of how Indigenous clients experience the law in Alberta and in Canada.”
Koren Lightning-Earle, a lawyer from Maskwacis, was part of a team that made this possible. She works for the Wahkohtowin Law and Governance Lodge and Thunderbird Law and formerly worked at The Law Society of Alberta in 2018 and 2019 as the Indigenous Initiatives Liaison.
Her role during that time as an Indigenous Liaison was to work with key stakeholders to develop initiatives to advance the process of reconciliation particularly surrounding access to justice for Indigenous Peoples and Cultural Competency for lawyers in Alberta.
“I saw it as a way forward and a step in the right direction of reconciliation,” said Lightning-Earle.
“Cultural competency is … to have the skills and knowledge to work effectively with those of different cultures than your own.”
Lightning-Earle believes it is changing the culture of our justice system and it’s part of an achievable goal to have a legal system where lawyers and judges take cultural awareness training and know the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada and respect Indigenous laws.
Evan McIntyre, an Edmonton lawyer at Pringle Chivers Sparks Teskey says, “I think the Indigenous Cultural Competency Training is a very important step for lawyers in Alberta.
“It is all too easy to overlook the different ways in which Indigenous people experience the legal system and the historical and cultural reasons for those differences,” said McIntyre.
“As lawyers, we have significant responsibilities towards our clients, many of whom are indigenous. In my view, this training will help both the profession’s understanding of the specific experiences of our indigenous clients and, more importantly, improve the experiences many of them have in the justice system.”
McIntyre believes this to be a step towards truth and reconciliation. The Law Society developed this initiative as a direct response to the TRC’s Calls to Action.
Lightning-Earle further explains, “The TRC calls to action calls to each and every one of us to do better. To build a better Canada. It cannot be done with people sitting on the sidelines or only doing the work in their day job.
“We have to do the work in our workplaces and in our home fires, reconciliation doesn’t end at 4 pm,” she said.
“The mandatory training for lawyers in Alberta is a huge step in the right direction. I worked on changing the culture at the Law Society and gaining the support of those in leadership and they saw the vision. The new liaison and the Law Society have worked together and made my dream a reality. It is an example for other law societies to follow.”