This year we celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial, but 2017 also marks a time for reflection and reconciliation, as Canada looks to advance a renewed nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples. Arts & Science spoke with two Jackman Humanities Institute Fellows to find out how scholarships are helping students deepen their understanding of Indigenous politics and law in Canada.
Sasha Boutilier, BA Student in Political Science, Ethics, Society and Law, and Canadian Studies
AC: When did you first become interested in Indigenous law?
SB: I was born in Canada but moved to Chicago when I was five years old. I came back in 2013 to study at the University of Toronto. I very much idealized Canada as a beacon of human rights and multiculturalism. The summer after first year, I did a work-study placement with Professor Deborah McGregor, who was cross-appointed between the Department of Geography and Planning and the Centre for Indigenous Studies. I ended up transcribing interviews with members of the Nipissing First Nation. That experience really exposed me to parts of Canada’s history and society that I had never encountered before, and affected me on a very personal level. It challenged the Canada that I knew, and I began to think about what I could do to reconcile the difference between my idealized notion of Canada and the reality of Canada’s tragic treatment of Indigenous peoples.
AC: Do you want to pursue a career in this area?
SB: Yes. I definitely see myself working to support Indigenous self-determination, and Indigenous land rights in particular. I’m particularly interested in the principle of free, prior and informed consent, which the Canadian government has recently pledged to implement and which has gained increasing acceptance in the international community. However, there are still numerous land-rights violations all over the world and there really needs to be broader acceptance of that standard. I am excited to continue my studies in this area and advocate for such change. I will be pursuing my JD this fall at New York University’s Institute for International Law as a Justice Joyce Lowinson Scholar.
AC: How has being awarded the Jackman Humanities Institute Undergraduate Fellowship influenced and helped with your goals?
SB: The fellowship is unique because it broadens horizons. Interacting and sharing weekly lunch lectures with the other fellows has encouraged me to think in a very interdisciplinary way. The Jackman Humanities Institute facilitates a really diverse community of faculty, grad students and undergrads. There is a lot of engagement with faculty, and I’m very grateful for the support of my thesis advisor, Professor Jennifer Nedelsky. My thesis focuses on the resurgence of Indigenous law in Canada, particularly constitutions drafted by Indigenous communities for their own governance. It has been a pleasure to work in an environment where undergraduate research is supported and emphasized.
AC: You also received the J. Stefan Dupré Memorial Scholarship in Canadian Politics this past year. What does this scholarship mean to you?
SB: The University of Toronto can be a difficult place to excel. This scholarship was very helpful in allowing me to focus on my studies rather than worrying so much about working to support myself. Beyond the financial, it is also very affirming on a personal level. To have someone come along and say “you are doing really well”— for the university and donors to care about that—is really heartwarming. The confidence that can inspire is immense. It can really set you on the right path and keep you going that way.
Anna Flaminio, Doctoral Candidate, Faculty of Law
AC: Tell us about your background and what brought you to U of T.
AF: I am Métis from the urban centre of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. My mother’s Métis community is St. Louis, located near the historic Métis community of Batoche, Saskatchewan. My father’s family is Italian; they immigrated to southern Ontario after World War II. I completed my Bachelor of Laws at the University of British Columbia, my Master of Laws at the University of Saskatchewan, and am finalizing my doctoral research at the U of T Faculty of Law.
AC: Your thesis is on kinship visiting methodology as a means of conflict resolution. Why is such a methodology so important for understanding the intersection of Canadian laws, Indigenous laws and legal processes?
AF: In law school, we learn about Alternative Dispute Resolution, meaning alternative to the adversarial and punitive approach often applied within courts and carceral environments. Indigenous peoples, prior to colonization and continuing today, apply distinct original dispute resolution methods. Each Indigenous nation, with unique language, territory and cultural protocols, has its own legal orders and procedural methods. My doctoral research concentrates on Cree laws—Wahkotowin (kinship relationships) and Kiyokewin (visiting)—and suggests a kinship-visiting approach to resolving disputes, especially to assist criminalized urban Indigenous youth. I believe that kinship-visiting is a viable Indigenous approach to mediation.
AC: In terms of Canadian laws, you concentrate on criminal and family courts. Why these two areas in particular?
AF: Indigenous peoples, and in particular Indigenous youth, are often overrepresented in the child welfare system (family court) and over-incarcerated in the criminal justice system (youth criminal court). My dissertation contemplates historical and present-day measures of separating Indigenous peoples from their families, communities, lands and languages, including the intent of the reserve, residential school and child-welfare systems to forbid or limit kinship visiting. My dissertation suggests the importance of visiting family, community and land as ways of Indigenous healing, retreat and resilience.
AC: How has the Chancellor Jackman Graduate Fellowship in the Humanities helped with your studies and goals at U of T?
AF: Through the Jackman Humanities Institute, I have had access to excellent meeting and office space, the opportunity to meet with an interdisciplinary group of brilliant scholars, and a funding package that supports my doctoral research project on Indigenous laws and criminal law dispute resolution.
Interviews by Amy Chen
Sasha Boutilier (top) and Anna Flaminio (above) at the Jackman Humanities Institute. Photos: Jackie Shapiro.