Episode 12: Systemic Change – Indigenous People and the Legal System

1 June 2022

In this episode, Jaclyn Silbernagel sits down with Sarah Sinclair, a Lawyer who leads the Indigenous justice program Sahwoo mohkaak tsi ma taas (Blackfoot for “Before Being Judged”) at Calgary Legal Guidance, to discuss creating equal access to justice for Indigenous people, how Indigenous Law brings healing, and the need for systemic change in the legal system.

Published 1 June 2022

Updated 12 December 2023

This episode of Let's Talk Poverty explores restorative justice and the need for trauma-informed practice. Sharing how using peace-making circles and healing circles within the legal system or through parallel Indigenous systems strengthens individuals and brings the community together.

In this episode

  • Learn about the distinction between Aboriginal Law (the body of western Canadian law that applies to Indigenous people like the duty to consult and hunting rights) and Indigenous Law (customary, traditional, oral law), and how Indigenous Law facilitates healing, growth, community connection, and family well-being.
  • Why systemic change is necessary in the legal system. How the legal system doesn’t always serve people and discussion on the biases that exist within the system.
  • Insight into systems change and how such change is a project of generations. Along with understanding why it may be necessary for Indigenous people and organizations to set up alternatives to the legal system – a good example is outside of Calgary at Siksika nation, Aiskapimohkiiks is a program that provides traditional, culturally competent mediation services and uses very specific, localized, Indigenous Law.

Three key takeaways

  • How Sahwoo mohkaak tsi ma taas, the Indigenous justice program with Calgary Legal Guidance, serves the community in two ways – first by creating systemic change and secondly by serving individual Indigenous people in need of legal assistance.
  • The need for trauma-informed practice, the difference restorative justice makes in promoting a healing cycle, and an understanding of how Indigenous Law is probably the best way to serve Indigenous people if the goal is to create justice for Indigenous people.
  • A reminder to uncover and examine our unconscious biases, acknowledging that without doing the individual work we’re going to keep perpetuating the systems and processes that continue to marginalize people.

Additional Resources

About Sarah Sinclair

Sarah Sinclair is a member of Peguis First Nation, Treaty One, Manitoba, and was born and raised on Mohkinstis. After attending law school at the University of British Columbia Sarah articled at Calgary Legal Guidance, Blain Law, and the Alberta Human Rights Tribunal. She was called in 2015 and worked in private practice at a boutique Aboriginal law firm, Eagle Law. In 2019 Sarah was hired as the first lawyer for Sahwoo mohkaak tsi ma taas, the Indigenous justice program at Calgary Legal Guidance, where she works now. Sarah is a member of the Law Society of Alberta’s Indigenous Advisory Committee and the Human Rights Commission’s Indigenous Council. She is a founding member of the Indigenous Lawyers’ Forum, a group of lawyers and law students who come together to support one another. She is on the Board of She, and enjoys camping and pondering the disruption of colonial systems using Indigenous modes of thought and being.

About Calgary Legal Guidance

Calgary Legal Guidance (CLG) guides Albertans in vulnerable situations through the legal system, providing legal assistance, information and support. CLG provides advice, representation, advocacy and support in the areas of criminal law, family law and domestic violence, landlord/tenant, homeless outreach, elder law, immigration law, human rights, civil law, child welfare (pre-apprehension), social benefits and administrative law to people in Calgary who cannot afford a lawyer or have been denied by Legal Aid.

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