Unsettling the Settler Colonial Structure of Canadian Legal Education: An Examination of Three Law Schools’ Engagement with Reconciliation

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  • Indigenous law has a long and rich history in Canada, and it has played an important role in the formation of Canada's constitution. Unfortunately, the Canadian state has ignored and devalued it, treating it as less important than common law and civil law. In the context of Canadian legal education, law schools have, since the very beginning, been directed towards the study of common law and civil, at the exclusion of Indigenous law. This exclusion exists alongside other barriers for Indigenous law students, including racism and discrimination, isolation and culture shock, and stigma and feelings of powerlessness. In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada published its final report and 94 calls to action to advance reconciliation between the Canadian state and Indigenous Peoples. Two calls to action are aimed at legal education: call to action 28 calls for all law students to take a mandatory course in Aboriginal people and the law, and call to action 50 calls for the establishment of Indigenous law institutes. This study explores how Canadian law schools are engaging with reconciliation. Through the use of semi-structured interviews with faculty members and Indigenous law students at the University of Ottawa, Dalhousie University, and the University of Victoria, the study examines how participants conceptualize reconciliation and whether their engagement with reconciliation is consistent with the liberal or transformative approach to reconciliation. Employing an anti-colonial framework, analysis of the data reveals that participants at all three law schools explain reconciliation, both as a general concept and in the context of legal education, in ways that are consistent with the transformative approach to reconciliation. The data also shows that all three law schools are on the path to implementing transformative reconciliation, but that much work remains to be done to unsettle the settler colonial structure of Canadian legal education.

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  • Copyright © 2022 the author(s). Theses may be used for non-commercial research, educational, or related academic purposes only. Such uses include personal study, research, scholarship, and teaching. Theses may only be shared by linking to Carleton University Institutional Repository and no part may be used without proper attribution to the author. No part may be used for commercial purposes directly or indirectly via a for-profit platform; no adaptation or derivative works are permitted without consent from the copyright owner.
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  • 2022


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