Tag Archives: violence

Navi Pillay at Osgoode – April 7

Drawing of Navi Pillay by Kagan McLeod for The National (Arab Emirates) July 2014


Excited to hear Navi Pillay on April 7th at Osgoode.  She is delivering the 2016 N. Sivalingam Memorial Lecture in Tamil Studies at York University  (proudly co-sponsored by, inter alia, the IFLS).  More of her work?

Renu Mandhane, the Ontario Human Rights Commissioner, will be doing the introduction to the lecture – please join us!

Poster for Navi Pillay talk April 7 at Yorku CLICK FOR ACCESSIBLE PDF FILE
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Accountability and Justice for International Crimes: Challenges and Achievements, with Navi Pillay

April 7, 2016 – 5pm-8pm Osgoode Hall Law School, York University.

Navi Pillay, a South African of Tamil origin, is a world renowned international jurist. She defended anti-Apartheid activists and helped expose the use of torture and poor conditions of political detainees. In 1973, she won the right for political prisoners on Robben Island, including Nelson Mandela, to have access to lawyers. Navi Pillay was the first non-white female judge of the High Court of South Africa, after being appointed to the bench by President Nelson Mandela in 1995. She has also served as a judge of the International Criminal Court and President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Navi Pillay served as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 2008 to 2014. She is currently serving as the Chief Commissioner of the International Commission Against the Death Penalty.

A reception beginning at 5pm will be followed by the Lecture at 6pm. All are welcome.

Please RSVP to ycar@yorku.ca by 1 April 2016.

This event is generously co-sponsored by the Nathanson Center, Osgoode Hall Law School, the York Centre for Asian Research and Amnesty International with support from the Graduate program in Socio-Legal Studies, and the Institute for Feminist Legal Studies at Osgoode Hall School.


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 #3: Scott Franks]

Marci to Sonia for reaching out and encouraging me to participate in the book club for The Round House. Although I’ve always enjoyed fiction, it’s taken a backseat since I began to take “education” seriously. Thanks to a generous gift card from some friends, I’ve added The Orenda, Monkey Beach, and The Back of the Turtle to my bookshelf, and have had some progress on The Orenda and Monkey Beach since November. I worry that the thick, green tomes embossed with gold-foil lettering might be abandoned soon. I hear they have cases.

I am very grateful to be reintroduced to Erdrich’s writing through such a welcoming book club. I want to explore the question, for whom is The Round House written? I’d like to address a few themes as well, mostly in response to conversations started by Sonia and Hadley.

But before these thoughts, I want to provide a brief, partial history of the more recent activities surrounding missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada and the Federal government’s response thus far. I think that this history is more practical than whatever thoughts I might have about The Round House. It’s not a precise or complete history in any sense. It Starts With Us has written an excellent history of the databases for missing and murdered Indigenous women. Maryanne Pearce’s  PhD dissertation also provides a comprehensive history. However, I hope that my brief timeline brings attention to some of the activities being undertaken by Indigenous communities. I also hope it highlights the faulty “radar”    of political leaders who continue to ignore the issue.


Not on Canada’s Radar: Characterising violence towards Aboriginal women as internal to reserves

As Hadley notes, this crisis is often characterised as internal to Aboriginal communities. This characterisation limits a discussion about intergenerational trauma resulting from the 60’s scoop and residential schools, and inaccurately suggests that Aboriginal men are wholly responsible for violence against Aboriginal women. A myopic focus on the Indian Act and reserves also ignores the fact that this crisis is a truly national one.

In response to calls for an inquiry by Rinelle Harper and Aboriginal leaders in Winnipeg, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Bernard Valcourt bluntly stated in an interview, “Obviously there is a lack of respect for Aboriginal women on reserve, obviously.” Valcourt forgets that inquiries intend to go beyond the obvious. But his language is straightforward: “you know, if the [Aboriginal] guys grow up believing that women have no rights, that’s how they’re treated.” The argument is causal: provisions of the Indian Act create the structures that engender a “lack of respect” among Aboriginal men towards Aboriginal women, which is the cause of violence against Aboriginal women. On this logic a ‘lack of respect’ towards Aboriginal women would be endemic on every single reserve; we know – obviously – that this is not the case. As Betty Anne Lavallée points out in response to Valcourt’s statement, “more than 60 per cent of the missing persons cases and 70 per cent of the murders of Aboriginal women take place in urban centres.” And such a simplistic answer does not tell us anything about how violence against Aboriginal women relates to the racialization of Aboriginal women, the impacts of colonialism and intergenerational trauma on Aboriginal communities, the mass incarceration of Aboriginal men, the connection between violence against Aboriginal women and violence against the land, and the role of non-Aboriginal communities and men in this violence.


Over a decade ago, Amnesty International (AI) identified the high rates of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada as a national human rights crisis. AI’s Stolen Sisters (2004) report found that violence against Indigenous women occurs in the context of deep-rooted racism and discrimination at all levels of society, including within police forces. In its report No More Stolen Sisters (2009), AI continued to urge for a coordinated and comprehensive national response, but did not recommend a public inquiry. In October, 2014, AI stated that a public inquiry is necessary to “break the government inertia preventing substantive and comprehensive reform and action.”


Databases on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women: From Sisters in Spirit to It Starts with Us

From 2005 to 2010, the Native Women’s Association of Canada [NWAC] operated a campaign called Sisters in Spirit. Although initially funded by the Liberal government in 2005, its funding continued under the Conservative government until 2010. On May 16th 2007, Conservative MP Joy Smith stated that the Conservative government would commit to funding NWAC’s Sisters in Spirit campaign at $1 million annually until 2010-11. It was one of the first major research and documentation projects to compile information on the approximately 600 murdered and missing Indigenous women. It was an innovative project, which fulfilled community, memorialization, and catalyzing purposes.


In 2010, the Conservative government reasoned that existing policing and RCMP services were sufficient, and that the funding would be better allocated to those generic services, rather than to organizations such as NWAC. However, due to delays in funding, the RCMP was unable to effectively coordinate its responses and create a database that incorporated the files of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. Some suggested that the Conservative government did not want the creation of a database that specifically drew attention to these cases, especially one which could not be controlled or kept confidential.


Aboriginal community-based activism has become more visible in mainstream news. Idle No More played a part in this. But this doesn’t mean that community efforts are recent. Here, I would like to draw attention to some of the recent community activities related to violence against Aboriginal women. On February 14th, 2015 10th annual Strawberry Ceremony will take place at 12:30pm at Police Headquarters, 40 College Street at Bay, Toronto. This is the tenth year that the vigil and ceremony has been organized by No More Silence, in solidarity with similar vigils and marches across Canada.


No More Silence manages a community database called It Starts with Us. The database operates in collaboration with the Families of Sisters in Spirit, and the Native Youth Sexual Health Network. Audrey Huntley has discussed the work of No More Silence and the broader context of violence against Indigenous women in an interview. The database builds on the work of Audrey Huntley, and the late Amber O’Hara. Two other notable researchers are Maryanne Pearce, and the late Loretta Saunders. Maryanne Pearce’s PhD dissertation from the University of Ottawa is essential reading, and has contributed significantly to community databases.  Unfortunately, Loretta Saunders, an Indigenous Inuk woman herself, never had the opportunity to complete her her thesis on missing and murdered Indigenous women. Loretta’s sister Delilah operates a blog on homicide survivor grief and trauma, with plans to launch a website.

Creative works on violence against Indigenous women

The Round House is just one of many creative works touching on the issue of violence against Aboriginal women. Joseph Boyden, author of Through Black Spruce, has recently edited an anthology called Kwe: Standing with Our Sisters, which includes contributions from over 50 contributors including Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Gord Downie, Thomas King, Lee Maracle, and Yann Martel. Walking With Our Sisters is a collaborative art project that commemorates the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women through the display of moccasin vamps. Jamie Black’s Red Dress installation has been exhibited at several Canadian universities, which consists of 130 empty, red dresses hanging in common areas. The documentaries Stolen Sisters, Highway of Tears, Finding Dawn, and Building a Highway of Hope provide accessible and compelling narratives for a variety of audiences.  Naomi Klein delivered a speech about the death of Bella Laboucan-Mclean on December 18, 2014 at The Opera House in Toronto, at a special production of the Basement Revue to to raise funds for No More Silence. Blogger Kwe Today’s response provides an important counterpoint to Klein’s speech.


Thoughts on The Round House

For whom is The Round House written? I was struck by the absence of settler worldviews in The Round House. The settler and colonial characters – Linden Lark, Father Travis Wozniak, Soren Bjerke, Sonja – have no control over the perspective crafted by Erdrich. Instead, the narrative is driven by the novel’s Ojibwe characters – Joe Coutts, his father Bazil and mother Geraldine, Whitey, Mooshum, Clemence, Randall, Grandma Thunder, Cappy, Zack, Angus and Linda Wishkob – and their relationships with each other on the reservation.


I connected with The Round House first as a Métis reader – noting how the author describes the exodus of Métis travelling South to Montana and Minnesota during the Reign of Terror after the fall of Batoche and the hanging of Louis Riel, the Ojibwe welcoming of the Métis and their aptitude for farming, and the later settler-mentality of some Métis towards their Ojibwe hosts and family. As I read this, I thought of the internalization of colonialism and colonial violence within Indigenous communities. I thought about how this story – that of the Métis – related to the story of Nanapush and the Old Buffalo Woman, the near-extinction of the plains buffalo, the establishment of reservations and allotments, the piece-meal cutting up of Indian lands by ravenous land speculators and an all-consuming Federal government. I thought of violence and hunger. I thought of gardening – whether the root you pull will crack your foundation, whether careful patience in planting will ensure a harvest. The Round House is like a patch-work blanket of interconnected stories, of human characters making decisions about how they relate to the world around them and to others, and of the long-term impact of such decisions.


The Tribal Court judge Bazil Coutts arranges a decaying casserole to illustrate the body of colonial Indian Law, balancing the sharp knives of tribal court precedent on top in the hope of grounding future tribal sovereignty. Bazil Coutts explains this to his son Joe, and Joe relates it to the story of Nanapush surviving in the remains of Old Buffalo Woman. What happens to an Indigenous lawyer who survives in the remains of a colonial state? What is the relationship between the Indigenous lawyer and his or her Indigenous laws and those of the colonial state? Is the Indigenous lawyer compromised in his or her engagement with Indigenous laws? What happens when Indigenous laws are incorporated into colonial law? Bazil Coutts nearly tests this question when he suggests that successfully arguing Wetiko laws in tribal court could ground future claims for tribal sovereignty (at 227-230). But what happens after you’ve built your foundation on hungry, invasive saplings? Can you tear them out? Or is the careful, patient, infinite pruning essential to the integrity of the foundation – in this way acknowledging the relationship between the saplings and the foundation through conscious activity. Perhaps that’s the point. Not to forget that there will be saplings in the foundation.
I certainly do not have any answers to these questions. I’ve been asking myself these things for over five years, when I first made the decision to consider attending law school and I will likely continue to do so. And this made me think about how important it was for me to be able to work out some of these questions for myself in the narrative of The Round House.




IMG_4449Scott is a second year law student at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto. He is co-president of the Osgoode Indigenous Students Association, a senior editor with the Osgoode Hall Law Journal, and a student member of the Indigenous Bar Association. Scott has contributed to public legal education projects related to human rights and specific claims, and worked for the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General as a summer law student. Scott’s vision is to foster reciprocity between Indigenous and Canadian laws, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students, and within traditional Canadian legal education.  He is on twitter: @sjfranks



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.











IFLS Speakers Series: Dr. Yofi Tirosh (Tel Aviv) Who Cooked the Current Middle East Crisis (and Who is Going to do the Dishes)?

Monday October 6  230-4 IKB (Osgoode Hall) Rm 2027Oct6YofiTirosh

Who Cooked the Current Middle East Crisis (and Who is Going to do the Dishes)? A Human Rights Perspective

Dr. Yofi Tirosh (Tel Aviv Law)                                                   

This talk, followed by a Q & A session, will provide a scholarly and a personal take on the current geo-political crisis in the Middle East. As a law professor, a human rights activist, and a regular media contributor of legal interpretation, Dr. Tirosh will point to the covert relationship between the status of women and minorities in Israel, Palestine, and Gaza, and the unprecedented military and symbolic violence of summer of 2014. The presentation will use satirical video clips, TV commercials, as well as Supreme Court rulings from Israel to throw some light on the bitter conflicts over (breast-)milk and honey.

Poster for sharing/printing here

Dr. Tirosh is a Senior Lecturer at the Tel Aviv University Faculty of Law and a 2014-16 Senior Fellow at Hebrew University’s Martin Buber Society of Fellows. Tirosh teaches labor and employment law, antidiscrimination law, food law, body and law, and feminist jurisprudence. Her research interests include affirmative action, bioethics, law and culture. The working title of her book in progress is Feminist Libertarianism.  Dr. Tirosh is a graduate of The University of Michigan Law School, were she was a graduate fellow at Michigan’s Institute for the Humanities. She served as a Visiting Professor at Georgetown Law Centre in fall 2012, and as a Hauser Fellow at NYU Law School in 2008. Alongside research and teaching, Tirosh gives workshops on writing blocks, women in academia, and job talks. As a human rights activist, she is the leading public voice in the efforts to stop the growing sex segregation in public and private spaces in Israel. She is a regular contributor of legal interpretation to leading media venues in Israel.

Light refreshments will be provided

Questions? Please contact the IFLS administrator, Lielle Gonsalves LGonsalves@osgoode.yorku.caOct6YofiTirosh