Academic journal article Dalhousie Law Journal

Indigenous Lawyers in Canada: Identity, Professionalization, Law

Academic journal article Dalhousie Law Journal

Indigenous Lawyers in Canada: Identity, Professionalization, Law

Article excerpt


I. Indigenous identity and the legal profession

1. Outsider groups in the legal profession

2. Empirical research about Indigenous lawyers

II. Belonging, exclusion, imposition and lawyering

1. Theme one: Belonging & exclusion: Community after professionalization

2. Theme two: Imposition and expectations: Performing identities

3. Theme Three: (How) will Indigenous lawyers make a difference?

III. Listening

1. Theoretical lenses & identity

2. Ethics


"We are the road-people that negotiate the boundaries between freedom and imprisonment of our peoples, "1


For Indigenous communities and individuals in Canada, "Canadian" law has been a mechanism of assimilation, colonial governance and dispossession, a basis for the assertion of rights, and a method of resistance. Indigenous people were effectively excluded from legal education and the profession for decades, but the number of Indigenous lawyers doubled at some point, in the mid-1990s. New rights and zones of struggle created by the 1982 inclusion of Aboriginal rights under section 35 of the Constitution are now under critique by Indigenous scholars urging Indigenous people to reject these colonizing tools, and focus instead on the work of rebuilding Indigenous law and legal traditions.2 Under these conditions, Indigenous lawyers occupy a complicated space, with some asserting that "the Indian lawyer is in fundamental contradiction" working within a colonial legal system.3 How do Indigenous lawyers negotiate the relationships between their identities, their performance of those identities, law and legal institutions, and their roles as Indigenous community members and legal professionals? How do they navigate the tensions?

This paper reviews the available scholarly literature about Indigenous lawyers in a variety of jurisdictions, exploring questions and conclusions about the formation and expression or performance of the identity of "Indigenous lawyer." Part I offers a review of scholarship on outsider groups in the profession and, in particular, scholarship on Indigenous lawyers. Part II identifies three areas in which that literature notes relationships between identity, law and lawyering, and indigeneity: (1) belonging and exclusion: community after professionalization; (2) imposition and expectations: performing identities; and (3) (how) will Indigenous lawyers make a difference? The last part proposes a qualitative research project about Indigenous lawyers, and considers the theoretical frameworks and necessary ethical grounding for such a study.

I. Indigenous identity and the legal profession

This paper proposes to consider the intersection of two groups-the legal profession and the Indigenous community-through those individuals who consider themselves part of both. Each group has been subjected to considerable academic study and theorizing under a variety of frameworks.4 In this section, we briefly note the scope of the academic literature on Indigenous identities before turning to work about the legal profession and "outsiders" generally. We then consider studies specifically focused on Indigenous5 lawyers.

There is a very crowded field of thought about the definitions, formation and meaning of "identity," about indigeneity and about race and culture. Our observations here complement without directly addressing scholarship which considers whether and when indigeneity should be treated as race, ethnicity, or a political community.6 Rather than adopting or foimulatmg a definition of identity from this scholarship, this review is interested in how Indigenous lawyers discuss, conceptualize, or experience ideas like community, home, peers, geographies, and any of the many other ways in which identity is defined in. their own words. Identity encompasses ideas and experiences of belonging and exclusion such that the self-generation is informed by the actions of other individuals and of groups and how these are experienced as welcoming or excluding, litis also suggests that we will all. …

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