Schulich Law to host Kawaskimhon Moot for the first time

- February 27, 2019

Cindy Blackstock with Spirit Bear (Photo: First Nations Child and Family Caring Society)
Cindy Blackstock with Spirit Bear (Photo: First Nations Child and Family Caring Society)

The Schulich School of Law is proud to host this year’s Kawaskimhon National Moot for the first time in the law school’s history.

The moot, taking place March 1–3, is also celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2019. Though it started small at the University of Toronto, it now has participants from nearly every law school in Canada. This year 18 schools are taking part, with 70 students and 27 coaches coming together from across the country.

The Kawaskimhon (Cree for “speaking with knowledge”) is unique among moot court competitions in that it’s a consensus-based, non-adversarial moot incorporating Indigenous legal orders alongside federal, provincial, and international law. This year’s moot problem is focused on the reform of Canada’s First Nations Child and Family Services Program.

“The students are excited about the theme, which is very current,” says Schulich School of Law Professor Naiomi Metallic, Dalhousie’s Chancellor’s Chair in Aboriginal Law and Policy. “It’s an opportunity for them to dive into this issue.”

Pondering pressing questions

Along with Dana-Lyn MacKenzie, the law school’s director of Student Services and Engagement, Metallic is coaching Schulich Law’s team of six second- and third-year students: Maile Graham-Laidlaw, Madison Joe, Erin Minuk, Natasha Schigas, Fabian Suarez-Amaya, and Heather Webster. The organizing team also includes Professors Constance MacIntosh and Sara Seck.

The moot problem requires the teams to consider these two questions: What mechanisms could be put in place to ensure that Canada meets its obligation to provide equitable and culturally appropriate services to First Nations children? What should long-term reform of the First Nations Child and Family Services Program look like?

The problem is the brainchild of Cindy Blackstock, a Gitxan woman, a social worker, the executive director of the First Nations Child and Caring Society, and a tireless advocate on behalf of First Nations children. “

It’s essential that law students have practical experience with live cases that impact First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people,” says Blackstock, who received an honorary degree from Dalhousie in 2018. “They may be able to help figure out some of the solutions.”

Fresh ideas and perspectives

Blackstock will be bringing Spirit Bear, a white teddy bear she received as a gift from the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council in Prince George, B.C., a decade ago. The bear went with her to Ottawa when the hearings into the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal case on First Nations child welfare were getting underway. “He is to remind everyone that the case is about children,” she says.

On the moot’s second day, Blackstock will spend 30 minutes at each table of students, listening to and helping direct their ideas about child welfare initiatives. “It’s really helpful to have people with fresh ideas and perspectives take a look at the case,” she says. “My message to the students will be that you have to practice the law with love. That’s how you achieve justice.”

Schulich Law second-year student Madison Joe will be sitting at one of those tables. The 28-year-old is from Membertou First Nation, one of five Mi’kmaw communities in Cape Breton.

“I’m hoping to widen my knowledge of child welfare, and being in the moot and being able to show my work to Cindy Blackstock gives all of us the perfect opportunity,” says Joe. “I’m not just representing Dal, I’m representing Membertou and Mi’kmaki. It’s amazing to be a part of the moot because it gives me an opportunity to bring a different perspective to the table.”


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