What does it mean to practice Public Legal Education (PLE) from an Indigenous, interconnected worldview? This is the goal of BearPaw Legal Education (BPLE) in the development, distribution and evaluation of PLE for Indigenous peoples throughout Alberta. BPLE is a department of Native Counselling Services of Alberta (NCSA). NCSA was established in 1970 with the objective of providing Courtworker assistance to Indigenous people in conflict with the law. NCSA recognizes that Aboriginal people often feel alienated by legal and court procedures, and that they need support navigating the justice system. Since then NCSA has evolved to deliver programs, training, and services, as well as to produce research and films.
Public Legal Education: What are we Restoring?
Canadian law, and the way justice is administered, is complicated, difficult to understand, and often shifting. All Canadians must have a basic understanding of different areas of law and how changes to the law affect them. Public Legal Education began in Canada in the 1970s, as part of the Legal Aid Movement. Those leading the movement saw that poor people (who qualified for social welfare programs) were at a disadvantage in Court, because they could not afford counsel. PLE began in this spirit, as organizations created literature on legal issues in plain language for socially marginalized groups living in poverty, with the goal to increase access to justice.
Indigenous people have a complex relationship to Canadian law-which has been used both as an instrument of colonization, and more recently, as a way to pursue and clarify pre-existing and constitutional rights. For two decades, NCSA has undertaken research into the effects of colonial legislation and policy on Indigenous communities, life-chances, and experiences of the law in the present moment. Key findings highlight that some (but not all) Indigenous people live with historic trauma that shapes interactions with the legal system. What follows is a partial list of changes to Indigenous communities that resulted from colonial legislation and policy, and the consequences for peoples' lives.
* Since 1763, legislation and policy (including those that made the residential school system possible) have caused kinship relationships to fracture. This, is turn, has diminished the sense of interconnectedness for Indigenous people, resulting in debilitating isolation.
* Ceremony and traditional knowledge were demonized and made illegal...