What exactly are we reconciling?” asks Indigenous lawyer Aimée Craft, an assistant professor at the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Law. Her book, Breathing Life into the Stone Fort Treaty focuses on understanding and interpreting treaties from an Anishinaabe inaakonigewin (legal) perspective.
Craft began her Nov. 17, 2014, talk at Robson Hall with the many, and sometimes confusing, definitions of reconciliation. She then outlined trends in the conflicting definition of reconciliation used within legal cases surrounding Aboriginal and Treaty rights put before the Supreme Court of Canada from 1990 until the more recent Tsilhqot’in Nation v. British Columbia, 2014. Her research shows the total number of appearances of the word “reconciliation” as well as the appearance of “reconciliation” in the same sentence as “sovereignty” within Supreme Court Cases involving Aboriginal and Treaty rights.
Craft went on to discuss Anishinaabe law, which involves relationships and Minobimaadiiziiwin (living a good life). This is a very different system from Western law, an adversarial system based on individualism and property.
Aagooiidiwin is an Anishinaabe term that means bringing things together, Craft said. Reconciliation is for the purpose of building relationships, and Aagooiidiwin takes into consideration the past, present and future, without privileging one over the other.
Elder Harry Bone is a member of Keeseekoowenin Ojibway Nation, where he served as chief and director of education. The University of Manitoba honoured Elder Bone with an honorary doctor of laws degree for his work that continues to advance Aboriginal education in Canada.
Elder Bone spoke of the importance of relationships in reconciliation, and the obligations and responsibilities of both sides. He spoke of the importance of tradition and ceremony, and the history of the pipe ceremony. When conducting a pipe ceremony, an Elder looks in seven directions: honoring the Creator, the land, the four directions, and himself on behalf of the people. When questioned on whether the Supreme Court has enough expertise to make decisions on Aboriginal rights, Elder Bone urged all judges and law students to feel a duty to learn.
What are your feelings on a recent news story regarding the ruling in Ontario that a hospital cannot force an 11-year- old girl with leukemia to resume chemotherapy because the Constitution protects her mother’s right to treat the child with traditional Aboriginal medicine?
Craft said it’s a reflection of the differences between Anishinaabe law and Western law. Western law protects life, and Anishinaabe law respects the good life. The good life can entail both individual and collective aspects. As well, it’s your right to decide what the good life means to you.