One year ago today...
Updated: Jun 29, 2019
In my culture, dreams are important. They sometimes involve important messages, and sometimes, people in my culture can see things into the future from dreams. They are sometimes gifts for many people, and not everyone has dreams in this way. I understand for many this sounds unbelievable but for me, dreams do this. They help guide me and tell me about things that may happen—good or bad. In other words, dreams are gifts and a source of guidance in my culture.
This is important because of my story.
Because dreams are important in my culture, I have learned to write down my dreams and reflect on them or refer to them sometime after I have them.
In March 2018 sometime, I wrote in my iPhone notes that I had a dream. My notes on the dream were short. My notes read:
Dreamt I had pieces of [a regalia], laying around; they were white, perfect and green; some of them belong together but two did not
Sometime in June 2018, I went to see a healer. Some healers in my culture help with interpreting dreams. That day, I told my healer about the dream and later, I wrote down his response in my journal (I journal almost on a daily basis). He said that the dream represented what I was experiencing in my journey to become a lawyer, that there were two processes and one did not belong or that I did not belong. I went to him frequently during my licensing process. So, he also knew about my good character investigation and my desire to not attend the “Call to the Bar” process in person in order to honour my community but respect my regulator’s processes (note: the phrase "call to the bar" describes a step in the process to be licensed to practice law in many common law jurisdictions, like Ontario).
On top of going to law school, writing exams and completing articles (e.g. a co-op/internship for lawyers), all lawyers must be of good character. When licensing candidates apply to the Law Society of Ontario (“LSO”), they must self-disclose information, requiring them to answer yes or no on a list of questions which are followed by information provided by the candidate. The candidates sometimes are required to provide additional information. To be clear, I respect this requirement and I do not dispute its requirement (to suggest otherwise and to suggest I would say such a thing in a public space, like here, is a privilege position that ignores how Indigenous people are hyper-policed in public spaces).
In my application and around late 2016, I answered yes to a range of questions and provided some information (because the LSO did not provide guidance as to what would satisfy their good character inquiries). The LSO responded in June 2017 and asked for nearly 20 disclosure requests, ranging from freedom of information, court transcripts and court information. This all costs money, outside of the normal licensing fees. I had to provide such information from several jurisdictions having moved and lived in a range of areas. Again, more money, time and costs (mental and emotional). I had to also retain a lawyer, for whom I am forever grateful for having met and for having worked on my file. But, again, more money.
Come February 2018, and nearly eight months from receiving the June 2017 response from the LSO, I met with the LSO investigator as part of the good character process. Delays not through fault of my own or my lawyers. Not long after, on February 28, 2018, the investigator “concluded that the investigation did not uncover sufficient evidence to warrant further regulatory action” and closed the LSO file. My application continued on in the normal licensing course.
After the LSO closed the file, I continued to follow the normal licensing process. I had submitted all my forms/certificates by the required dates and paid the required fees (on top of the licensing examination fees). However, sometime before April, I inquired about a call to the bar process that would honour my community but that would also respect the LSO’s processes. I did not hear back from the LSO until I emailed them again in April sometime.
I asked again about information to have a call that would honour my community but also respect their processes. They replied that there would be an option for Indigenous families to gather after the ceremony, participate in smudging (a cultural ceremony) and that I could wear my regalia. I notified the LSO that I did not want to participate in a public ceremony; again, I wanted to honour my community but respect their processes. I also notified the LSO that, due to the multiple Indian Residential Schools surrounding my community, I do not have the privilege to be able to wear my regalia. By this time, it was now May 2018. The next call to the bar process was about to happen in June 2018. There were only a few weeks left.
During this time, the LSO was mischaracterizing my request by suggesting that I wanted to change special convocation. Special convocation is the process set up to have the large number of candidates called to practice law in Ontario in only a few cities in Ontario. So, for others who did not live or around those cities, including their families, that would be an added cost, on top of the fees to apply to the call to the bar and the costs for gowns (the “uniform” required by a lawyer in the call to the bar process). I emphasized that I did not want to change any of their processes. Again, I wanted to simply honour my community but respect their processes.
In May sometime, the LSO proposed to have a telephone call with me. They still did not provide me with the information I was looking for, including their references to authorities that they kept referring to in their correspondence. I asked, at this phone call, to have a third-party present. I also asked who they would have attend in the meeting. They would have several people, including counsel for the department I was engaging with. They called this counsel their neutral third-party. I told them that I did not feel comfortable proceeding with their department counsel present. I told them this was neither independent nor neutral. I again, notified them that I did not want to be part of a public ceremony for very personal reasons.
In my culture, ceremony is very individual and sometimes done in a private manner though some people may feel comfortable doing ceremony in public. Further, the fact that the LSO required only Indigenous licensing candidates to honour their culture in very public manner is a practice I critique from a critical perspective.
Historically, institutions have similarly paraded around Indigenous people and their culture for entertainment. While I respect other people’s decision to participate in public ceremony, I believe that institutions that only allow it done in a public way are participating in a similar practice of parading around Indigenous people for their own benefit and enjoyment (without any critical perspective into how their own institution perpetuates harms of on-going colonial violence).
Near the end of May, it had been confirmed that I would be able to proceed with a call to the bar process that respected the LSO’s processes. I was called on June 28, 2018 by way of paper call. This meant that I did not cross the stage. I did not sign the “books”. I signed a few papers in front of another lawyer who also took my oath. I was sad with how my entire licensing experience turned out. And, yesterday, as the legal profession debated about an alleged equity, diversity and inclusion requirement, I am even more sadden that it is sometimes that people like me are left to exist at the margins.
I am grateful to be able to say that one year ago today I was called to the bar. However, I hope that the LSO can really examine how its own processes and procedures create this dual-reality for many—one that requires us to leave our true selves at the door, unable to honour our communities, our stories and our own histories, including the historical practice of legislating Indigenous people out of the profession.
After all, it was only a mere few decades ago that my relatives could not attend university, law school, practice law or hire lawyers (see more information here).
On this one-year anniversary, I honour this dream of mine that I had just over a year ago. I hope that others like me will be able to honour their dreams without the sadness, anger and shame I have been made to feel for simply being Indigenous.
More importantly, for all future lawyers, Indigenous or not, I hope that you can continue to dream big dreams too.