Starting next year, lawyers across the province will be mandated to learn more about Indigenous culture.
The Law Society of Alberta took the rare step of mandating a six-hour Indigenous cultural competency training course this week and will cover the cost of the course, which must be completed in the next 18 months.
Society president Kent Teskey said the new course stems from the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action, which stated Canadian lawyers should be educated on Indigenous rights, legal issues, treaties and residential schools.
“Whether a lawyer’s practice involves Indigenous clients or not, the (law society) believe all Alberta lawyers, as key contributors to the socio-economic fabric of society, and in particular, the justice system, have an obligation to share a baseline understanding of how Indigenous clients experience the law in our province and across Canada,” he wrote in a message.
The decision drew a thumbs up from Kathy Parsons, executive director for the Central Alberta Community Legal Clinic.
The clinic offers free legal services to those in need and do not qualify for legal aid. She said the training will be especially important for lawyers who volunteer their time at the clinic.
“We’re trying to engage more Indigenous people and provide service to them as well, and it’s part of our strategic plan to be more inclusive. So this endeavour really fits well with what we’re trying to do as well,” she said.
“It takes that piece that now we’re going to know our lawyers, who are volunteering their time on our behalf for our clients are going to have that basis of training and we don’t have to worry about that.”
With just a six-hour time commitment and the cost of the program being covered by the law society, Jamie L. Smith, president of the Central Alberta Bar Society said it will be good for the more than 10,000 lawyers in the province get more education on indigenous issues.
“The relatively small time commitment for the training is a good first step towards reconciliation, and as community leaders, it will help to ensure more widespread acceptance and inclusion of indigenous culture and community members in many other aspects of Central Alberta life,” she said.
Parsons added that the decision is a step in the right direction because of a fracture between the justice system and those it is designed to protect.
“I think because lawyers are such a big part of what makes up the justice system, that it’s a good step towards fixing the huge disconnect that we’ve known about for a long time, between the justice system and Indigenous people,” she said.
“I think the law society is showing a commitment to that process.”