As incoming 1Ls to the Peter A. Allard School of Law, my fellow classmates and I were well aware that with our entry into law school we would be embarking on a daunting endeavour of slogging through casebook after casebook with the hope of one day joining the company of a privileged few.
However, for those who were not aware of the responsibility that came with being a part of such privileged company, our professors, legal professionals, and a variety of other speakers constantly drill it into us.
Like many other 1Ls, I wasn’t completely sure of what this obligation really meant or like all 1Ls that recognized the demands imposed by law school, what it required.
Nonetheless, after attending a lecture by Reconciliation Canada’s Chief Robert Joseph, I felt quite humbled about what this responsibility requires and fairly more knowledgeable about what it means. Joseph, a hereditary chief of the Gwawaenuk First Nation, is a true peace builder who has dedicated the latter stages of his life to bridging the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous communities.
Joseph’s lecture detailed his time spent at a residential school, where he had difficulty learning not because he didn’t want to but because, in his early years, a teacher beat him to the point where his hearing was so severely damaged that it was physically challenging to pay attention in class.
Beyond that personal narrative, Joseph weaved another story resulting from Canada’s residential school system, one of cultural genocide: a systematic extermination of the history, culture, traditions, and other defining characteristics of a people. Like many other First Nations, his nation suffered a cultural plight where traditions including his native tongue were all but lost.
These were enough to draw the attention of the audience, but after I spoke with classmates, what we agreed was most inspiring was Joseph’s ability to reconcile with the past. With a steadfast smile, he shared his experience of reconciling with his past in order to move forward, which included forgiving a society that did him so much harm and forgiving himself for his own mistakes.
Reconciliation Canada has allowed Joseph to do just that, look to the future. Built out of the necessity to facilitate an interactive dialogue between peoples that have often not understood one another, Joseph inspires many to reconcile with the past and attempts to create a better future for all through a series of reconciliation dialogue workshops across Canada.
To put it in perspective, on Sept. 22, 2013, during the Walk for Reconciliation, 70,000 people marched through the streets of Vancouver in the pouring rain. It is the inspiration created by this organization that has led many to reconsider the past and future.
As a fellow student put it best to Joseph, we all felt so small in his company.
At the heart of Joseph’s lecture was not only a desire to speak of the problems of the past or contemporary issues but a desire to inspire change for the future. He challenged every incoming law student with the task of finding his or her own way to build a better community, no matter how big or small.
These words motivated me to write this piece and, hopefully, motivate others.
It is not hard to understand then why UBC honoured Joseph with an honorary doctorate of law degree. His continued dedication to the pursuit of a better Canada has earned him the respect he well deserves. By taking on this task and great responsibility, Joseph has earned the respect and attention of others.
In trying to pass on that inspiration, it is important to recognize the stature members of the legal profession and law students hold in society, which puts an even greater impetus on our shared responsibility.
For instance, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s report directed two points squarely at the legal community. One was the necessity of cultural competency training for lawyers, and the second called on law schools to require all students to take a course regarding Aboriginal Peoples and the law.
Why us? The short answer is why not? The long answer is that, as law students, we will one day hold positions in society that will allow us to be at the forefront of change.
With that, I leave you with the same request from Chief Robert Joseph: We are all relatives in one way or another and, as a family, we need to take care of one another. Building a better community does require responsibility, but at the same time, it can come in many shapes and sizes. As we continue to chase our futures and whether that eventually ends with a career in law or not, we should each try to find some way of building a better community, even if it is only in the smallest of ways.
Bobby Sangha is a first-year student at the Peter A. Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia. He is a member of the Law Students’ Legal Advice Program, which provides free legal advice and representation to clients who would otherwise be unable to afford assistance.