Tag Archives: law

Angela P Harris Keynote: Compassion & Critique

This keynote is from the really interesting Law and the Curated Body conference put on by my colleague Faisal Bhabha and Jennifer Fisher of York’s Department of Visual Art and Art History.

Angela P. Harris will be known to most readers of this blog.  Now at UC Davis School of Law, she’s been at the forefront of critical race and critical legal scholarship for a long time now.  She’s one of the editors of Presumed Incompetent:​ ​The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia (2012, Utah State UP) (there is a transcribed interview, here, where she discusses the book, it’s reception, and the impact of increased corporatization of universities).

In this talk, she explores the connections between mindfulness (she teaches a course called “Mindfulness and Professional Identity: Becoming a Lawyer While Keeping Your Values Intact”) and critical race scholarship, illustrating the ways in which she sees the two as intimately connected.  The talk isn’t an easy one – she details violence and challenges our responses to it.   Harris also spotlights the work of many Black female artists in the accompanying slides.   Take the time to have a look.


The Round House Book Club [Post #2: Hadley Friedland]

Today’s post, from Hadley Friedland.

heart shaped locket, with a map behind ?glass?Hadley Friedland is a PhD Candidate at the University of Alberta Faculty of Law, Vanier scholar and the inaugural SSRHC Impact Talent Award recipient. She was the Research Coordinator for the Indigenous Bar Association’s “Accessing Justice and Reconciliation Project.” Her doctoral research focuses on engaging with Indigenous laws through story, and exploring how Indigenous communities may choose to apply their own laws to current social issues.    As you saw in yesterday's post, her LL.M. work provided some inspiration to Louise Erdrich.  A pleasing loop - we're honoured by Hadley's willingness to share her reflections on the Round House here .

Thanks Sonia for coming up with this idea, and covering so much ground, and opening the door so wide for this ongoing conversation. My mind goes to a million places, but I think the pieces I am reflecting on right now, is how Louise Erdich used the wetiko concept to talk about, and think about, unspeakable violence, because the same subject drew me to it as well, and how using this concept is one way to restore respect and dignity to decisions far too many Indigenous people face every day.


First, I have to say it was incredible to find it, and be found, in her beautiful and powerful work. The main way I have worked on engaging with and attempting to articulate Indigenous laws, is through analyzing stories, identifying legal principles, and synthesizing them into something that looks like a law school outline or legal memo on a particular body of law from a particular society. A valid criticism of this method is that the distillation loses much in losing the fullness of narrative thinking itself. The answer to this criticism, for me, lies in whether or not these distilled principles can be drawn on or reconstituted in the creation of new narratives. This is what Val Napoleon did with Mikomosis, consciously and explicitly, and this is what Louise Erdrich, truly a master storyteller, did in the Roundhouse.


As Sonia points out, there is no question about the horrific level of violence (and violent erasure) Indigenous people, and Indigenous women in particular, suffer and are subject to, or that statistics confirm this is often at the hands of white men. To focus, as the federal government recently has, only on the violence within Indigenous communities is politically convenient and dangerously deceptive. And yet part of the complex reality is that there are dangerous levels of violence within communities, and that this violence is often both caused by and experienced by people who live in relation and/or close proximity. When people reach out for help or a tragedy ends up in the news, the worst kinds of personal trauma are often reduced to the belittling stereotypes of the “sick” or the “savage”. This insult heaped on top of injury – humiliation added to already deep wounds – can feed back into anger, isolation and paralysis. There has to be a way to break the silence without feeding the ugly stories that perpetuate colonial degradation and racist violence at a national scale. That has been my focus. How do we respond as a community to harm and horror? How can we stop this pain from passing to the next generation? How do we speak about the unspeakable? How do we protect those we love, from those we love? These questions, which also fill this book, often occupy my thoughts, and are what led me to the wetiko stories in the first place.


There are many wetiko stories, spanning hundreds of years, in Cree and Anishinabek societies. The earliest stories are about cannibal giants or spirits, and how the people faced this horror and danger. There are also stories about strangers who are suspected of cannibalism. Many stories involve people who are known and loved who cause terrible harm to themselves or others. This can include stealing, hoarding, murder and cannibalism. Cannibalism may seem horrific, but I would argue that some of the violence occurring today is even more horrific. Some stories are about a person in the process of becoming a wetiko. These people might act strange, make threats, act depressed, withdraw, isolate themselves, hurt themselves, stop taking care of themselves, try to hurt or bite others, look for weapons, or do things they can’t remember later. Most people becoming a wetiko were cured, but when healing didn’t work, and they became more dangerous or harmed others, families, leaders, groups and/or medicine people worked together to keep others safe. This could result in supervision, temporary or permanent separation, or even death, if that was the only option left. Again, it is crucial to note that most people becoming a wetiko actually were helped to recover and reintegrated into the community (although they required ongoing monitoring, as nobody could be completely cured). I stress this because I do worry that, even though Mikomosis and the Roundhouse create conversations that respectfully engage with the wetiko concept as an intellectual resource, the fact both end in a death might inadvertently perpetuate the assumptions that execution, and incapacitation is the only available response to a wetiko.


Indigenous legal traditions, like all legal traditions, provide a specific way of not just solving, but articulating and reasoning through human and social problems in the first place. Through my research with the wetiko stories, I came to the conclusion that the wetiko is best understood as a legal concept or category in Cree and Anishinabek societies, that describes people who are harmful or destructive to others in socially prohibited ways. One of the questions in this research, relevant in any legal order but particularly germane in horizontal or decentralized ones, is who are the legitimate or authoritative decision makers? Not what is decided, but who gets to decide?


In the book, my attention was drawn, not just to the multiplicity of legal orders, and the spaces of lawlessness painfully illustrated, but the multiplicity of legal decision-makers and many sites of judgment I could recognize from older wetiko stories. Bazil, as a tribal judge, carefully, meticulously working with the laws available to create a foundation and greater space for future authority and jurisdiction (he reminds me of John Borrows in this regard) is the most obvious legal decision-maker by today’s standards, and, pronounces judgment for his son: “It could be argued that Lark met the definition of a wiindigoo, and, without any other recourse, his killing fulfilled the requirements of a very old law”(306). But there are others. Joe, who made the decision to shoot Lark, and Cappy, who helped him implement it, both of whom, as Joe’s father points out, will live forever with the human consequences of taking a life. There is no illusion as to the cost. Linda, Lark’s sister, makes the decision to support the killing by giving information about where to find her brother and disposing of the gun afterwards, before Joe even asks. And Geraldine, who, through her own horrific pain and trauma, chooses silence, and to break that silence to ensure a baby’s safety. And Geraldine, who is the first person to identify Lark as a wiindigoo, and tells Joe, after her husband’s encounter with Lark in the grocery store, resulting in a major departure from his moral code, and a minor heart attack, “Lark’s trying to eat us Joe. I won’t let him…I will be the one to stop him” (248).


In the book, Bazil refers to his son’s response having a precedent, and what I would add, is that an unsaid but important aspect of this story is there is also precedent for people in all of the roles above to make decisions about the appropriate legal response to a wetiko. Judith Herman has described her work as driven toward the goal of giving dignity to trauma survivors’ distress. One of the things that I strive to do in my work, and I think Louise Erdrich has done in this book, is to restore dignity to the decision-making that occurs today within Indigenous communities. Rather than staying stuck in the ‘trauma narrative’, I think she uses the wetiko legal concept to demonstrate, in a trauma-informed way, how, Anishinabek individuals and groups continue to reason through issues, make principled decisions, and act on enduring felt obligations, in the face of terrible violence, degradation and grief, through the irrational tangle of state laws and colonialism. For me, this is a powerful story, one we need to effectively address the overwhelming violence as badly as attention to the larger political issues of lost land, entrenched generational poverty, systemic racism and racist violence within the dominant society.











students. what they are thinking/fighting about.

Students have more on their minds than just course material.

When I walked in to my workplace this morning, these posters (see slideshow above) were up all around the school, a new campaign courtesy of the Osgoode Feminist Collective (formerly known as the Osgoode Women’s Caucus, they changed their name a few years ago).  You can find the group on Facebook, here, and read a little more about the campaign there.

Other student activities in other places:

The Fredricton (NB) Youth Feminists, speaking out about sexualization at school via dress codes. Find them at @YouthFeminists.  Here is an article about this struggle (FYF were also engaged in the ongoing struggle for abortion access in NB):

Beirne explains why she believes the dress code is reflective of [slut shaming]: “The dress code says that we [the girls] can’t show our undergarments or our midriffs… Aside from that, the only other thing it says is that we have to dress modestly, and that is a problem, because ‘modesty’ can mean different things to different teachers.”

“Basically, this ambiguity allows the teachers to force their own ideas of ‘modesty’ on us even if our infraction isn’t in the dress code, and they can publicly humiliate you for it too.”

London, on the streets, protesting tuition fees, demanding free higher education.

signs at london protest

photo via the Guardian

At Yale Law School, students wrote an open letter responding to YLS prof Jed Rubenfeld’s piece in the NYTimes on campus rape.  The open letter is at HuffPo, here, but you have to scroll down to find it.


NIP: Ed. Collection: Within the Confines: Women & the Law in Canada

Within the Confines: Women & the Law in Canada

The editor is Jennifer Kilty, of U of O Criminology, and the Table of Contents is quite broad (see here) with contributions from UBC’s Emma Cunliffe U of M’s Amar Khoday and U of O’s Angela Cameron.

PreOrder Available for November release.


Western feminists have long treated the rule of law as an essential ingredient of social justice; however, as the contributors to this collection remind us, meaningful justice remains out of reach for many women and racialized minorities precisely because the law turns a blind eye to the inequities that structure their daily lives. In fourteen chapters that open vital debates about the erosion of the welfare state and the media’s complicity in concealing political injustice, Within the Confines details the brutal ironies of a society that criminalizes the vulnerable while absolving the elite. 

Distinctive in its focus on Canada, the book traces the linkages among racial, ethnic, sexual, and economic vulnerability and reveals the inadequacies of legislative approaches to socio-historical problems such as drug trafficking, homelessness, infanticide, and the legacies of settler colonial violence. In accessible prose, the authors dismantle the myths behind topics that are often sensationalized in the media—pornography, single motherhood, sex work, filicide, gangs, domestic abuse, prison conditions, HIV nondisclosure—and present alternative arguments that expose the justice system’s role in widening the gap between the rich and the poor. What emerges is a poignant challenge to the neoliberal fable that women and minorities in Western democracies now enjoy full equality and an urgent call to action for those who seek to shift institutional norms in more equitable directions. 

A valuable resource for a wide range of fields, including criminology, sociology, social anthropology, gender studies, political science, social work, and legal history, this multidisciplinary volume offers a fresh perspective on the disturbingly predictable judgments that criminalized women face in Canada.

New in Print from UBC Press: Calder & Beaman, Polygamy's Rights and Wrongs


Click here for UBC press page

Gillian Calder (UVic) and Lori G. Beaman (UOttawa) Eds.

Polygamy’s Rights & Wrongs: Perspectives of Harm, Family, and Law 

Contents look really interesting – with a strong theme connecting them but quite diverse.    They are described in Lori Beaman’s introduction, “Is Polygamy Inherently Harmful?”, which, happily, you can read as a sample, here.  I hope your librarian is getting this (they may appreciate an email suggesting it).  Great cover design too!


1 Plus Ça Change … ? Bountiful’s Diverse and Durable Marriage Practices / Angela Campbell 

2 How Should Public Institutions Assess Religious Identity? The Case of Polygamy / Avigail Eisenberg 

3 Polygamy and the Predicament of Contemporary Criminal Law / Benjamin L. Berger 

4 Are They Not Us? A Personal Reflection on Polygamy / Arta Blanche Johnson 

5 Reflecting on Polygamy: What’s the Harm? / Rebecca Johnson 

6 Polygamy in the Parisian Banlieues: Debate and Discourse on the 2005 French Suburban Riots / Jennifer A. Selby 

7 Polygamy and Race-Thinking: A Genealogy / Margaret Denike 

8 Making Them Fit: The Australian National Census and Aboriginal Family Forms / Frances Morphy 

9 The Raids at Short Creek and Yearning for Zion Ranch and the Law of Unintended Consequences / Martha Bradley-Evans 

Conclusion: “To the Exclusion of All Others” — Polygamy, Monogamy, and the Legal Family in Canada / Gillian Calder