This past Saturday marked the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, coinciding with the launch of the Law Society of Manitoba’s Indigenous Intercultural Awareness and Competency Training for lawyers. The mandatory training combines the Canada Bar Association’s The Path with Manitoba-specific content, responding to the calls for actions for lawyers and addressing crucial gaps in legal education.
Reflecting on two insightful presentations at our office this year, the gaps in my education are quite apparent. In May, Alyssa Bird, a fellow EFL associate, discussed family law from an Indigenous perspective, and on September 27th, Treaty Commissioner Loretta Ross delved into treaty relationships in Manitoba.
Indigenous Perspectives in Family Law
Alyssa and Loretta emphasized disregarded Indigenous viewpoints within various areas of the law. The oversight is particularly evident in family law, where our colonial-rooted laws idealize the nuclear family. Indigenous family dynamics, centered around community and the sanctity of children, present a different model of thinking about family relationships.
Let’s be real, the nuclear family concept often does not reflect the realities of many of the families we encounter daily, Indigenous or not. Growing up in a single parent household myself and working with the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, I have seen how the idealization of the nuclear family within the law can lead to feelings of injustice when your family does not fit that narrow model.
Disregarding the Indigenous viewpoint not only disservices Indigenous families but also limits resolution possibilities for all families.
Role of Collaborative Family Law and ADR in Reconciliation
Biases in the legal system underscore to me the benefits of Collaborative family law and alternative dispute resolution over litigation. These methods provide space for diverse perspectives and value systems. Loretta hinted at this when highlighting our office’s focus on collaboration, seeing it as a path to reconciliation.
The legal system often insists on one objectively provable correct position, that has to be supported by written evidence. But family disputes involve vastly different understandings and perspectives, and often little to no written evidence. Collaborative approaches focus on interests rather than determining a right or wrong position, fostering teamwork over opposition. This approach, in my experience, generates more options for resolution that often better align with participants’ views as to what is in their family’s best interest.
Learning from Indigenous Family Law Experts
While embracing alternative family law processes is in the spirit of reconciliation, it is just the beginning. Acknowledging gaps, particularly understanding Indigenous family dynamics and how family law disputes are resolved within Indigenous communities, is crucial.
Collaborative practices and alternatives to the court system have been used and advocated for by Indigenous peoples long before us. Yet, very little of my Collaborative and ADR training and continuing education was lead by Indigenous family law experts or involved Indigenous specific perspectives. Incorporating perspectives, methods, approaches, and skills from Indigenous family lawyers, Elders, and community members is an exciting opportunity. Challenging myself and colleagues to learn from Indigenous family law and dispute resolution practices, I believe is essential.
The Treaties emphasized knowledge sharing, and part of reconciliation involves recognizing our commitment to this agreement. Learning from Indigenous peoples is essential to reconciliation with our Indigenous clients and communities and has the potential to benefit all families we work with.
A BIG thank you to Loretta Ross and Alyssa Bird for sharing their knowledge with us!
Loretta Ross is the Treaty Commissioner for the Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba. Loretta is from Hollow Water First Nation from Treaty 5. Loretta has been the Treaty Commissioner since 2017, where her work involves educating and building relationships between First Nations and Manitobans through the context and lens of our longstanding treaty relationships. Prior to her work with the Treaty Relations Commission, she was a practicing lawyer for over 20 years in the area of working with First Nation communities and Indigenous people in the area of CFS, Residential School settlement claims, and negotiations with Crown corporations. She first went to University of Winnipeg, and then obtained her law degree from Queen’s University.
Alyssa Bird is a family lawyer at Evans Family Law. Alyssa is from Peguis First Nation from Treaty 1. Alyssa has experienced many types of family dynamics. This gives her a deep understanding of how complicated families and family issues can get, as well as a firm belief that many family issues can be resolved. Alyssa graduated with her Juris Doctorate in 2019 and was called to the Bar in 2020. Prior to joining EFL, Alyssa volunteered as an executive member with the Manitoba Indigenous Law Students’ Association, Student Pipeline Action Committee and LEVEL’s Indigenous Youth Outreach Program. Alyssa is working on building community within the Manitoba Indigenous Bar. Alyssa’s connection to her family, extended relatives, and larger community keep her grounded in the teachings she was raised with, and which she brings to her practice. To find out more about Alyssa you can visit our website or contact Alyssa at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Rhoni Mackenzie
If you have questions about this post or Collaborative family law, contact me today at email@example.com.