The Indigenous Blacks & Mi’kmaq Initiative at Dalhousie Law School is entering adulthood. This year the program marks its 20th anniversary.
“The IB&M Initiative recruits and supports Aboriginal and African-Canadian students at Dalhousie Law School,” explains director Michelle Williams-Lorde. “It is important to note, that once admitted [the students] join the regular first-year class and complete all of the same course requirements and exams as all other students.”
The groundbreaking program was established in direct response to three key factors. First, there was the passion and commitment of African Nova Scotians and Mi’kmaq people across the province striving to gain access to legal education and to address racism in the judicial system. Second, there was an important report out of Dalhousie University, “Breaking Barriers: Report of the Task Force on Access for Black and Native People,” which explored issues of access to education.
Then there was the landmark report issued by the Royal Commission on the Donald Marshall Jr. prosecution. Established in response to the wrongful murder conviction of the native Nova Scotian, the commissioners concluded, “That racism played a role in Marshall’s imprisonment is one of the most difficult and disturbing findings this Royal Commission has made.”
Out of that disturbing reality, however, have come important efforts to change the system. “[T]he Indigenous Blacks & Mi’kmaq Initiative, which started in 1989, came about in large part as a result of the report on Donald Marshall Jr.’s wrongful conviction, imprisonment, and related experiences,” says Williams-Lorde. “So as the IB&M Initiative prepares to celebrate its 20th anniversary this year, we will also be making time to remember the injustice that Mr. Marshall Jr. experienced — and the progress that resulted from his sacrifice.”
There is much to celebrate. “To date, we have over 125 African-Canadian and Aboriginal students who were admitted through the IB&M Initiative and have graduated from Dalhousie Law School,” says the program director. “The alumni are working in virtually every area of law — and are working across Canada and beyond.”
Many of them will carry on the legacy left by Marshall, who died earlier this year. He was 56 years old.