Introducing the Indigenous Community Legal Clinic

By Randy Robinson
Peter A. Allard School of Law J.D. CandidateRandy (2)

The Indigenous Community Legal Clinic (“Clinic”) in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (“DTES”) is both a legal clinic and a learning space for law students. The Clinic’s hummingbird logo is a symbol of the work that is undertaken by clinicians at the Clinic. Many Indigenous Peoples view the hummingbird as a communicator of knowledge enabling it to act as an advocate for all creation.

Why join the Clinic?

I am Algonquin of the Timiskaming First Nation in Quebec. I am in the last semester of the Peter A. Allard School of Law’s Juris Doctorate program.  In my early years as a high school student growing up in the DTES, I observed many injustices stemming from the disheartened history of our Indigenous community.

My desire for change towards these inequities led me to enroll. The Clinic enables law students such as myself to experience a strong foundation for law practice through an experiential and legal knowledge curriculum. Clinicians undergo three weeks of rigorous orientation where students meet lawyers and judges from diverse legal fields and practice areas.

Lessons for Law Student Clinicians

IMG_0876During my clinical term I developed skills pertaining to: file management, communication with other parties, working with a supervising lawyer, in depth legal research and writing, trial preparation, criminal and civil litigation, networking with a close knit cohort of clinicians, and creative solution orientated thinking.

An example of the practical learning experiences and legal knowledge that I attained at the Clinic was my work with the Pemberton Circuit Court (“PCC”). Physically attending the PCC after speaking with unrepresented clientele on the court list was crucial to bringing to light the desperate need for legal services in this remote community. Since then the PCC has joined the Clinic’s curriculum. This results in both a greater access to justice for Indigenous Peoples living in remote communities and a comprehensive extension of the Clinic’s services.

As a legal clinician I recognize the value of these practical legal skills and learning experiences. I also recognize that these skills pertain to the possibilities for changing the inequities that I observed in the DTES. However, on a grander scale I also recognize the value in the outstanding experiential knowledge the Clinic curriculum brought to my legal education. During my time at the Clinic this fusion led to valuable insights for understanding and negotiating my present legal education and future legal competencies.  One insight that stands out in my mind is when I met provincial court Judge Gregory Rideout at the Clinic. Judge Rideout aptly described the importance of the role of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (“Charter”) in the space of the DTES.

I will approach my future legal studies and practice with the following motto in mind: “Like the hummingbird, first and foremost we must be communicators”.

What does the Clinic offer?

The Clinic exists for two purposes:

  • first, to provide free legal services to the Indigenous community in the DTES, and
  • second, to provide legal education to law students in the Allard School of Law.

We provide advice, assistance and representation to clients who self-identify as Indigenous and who cannot afford a lawyer, on topics ranging from: criminal matters, family law matters, human rights complaints, to Indian Status applications and hearings before certain administrative tribunals.

Please see the Clinic’s listing on the HelpMap for more details and for information on how to contact us.

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New Law Focuses on Aboriginal Matrimonial Rights on Reserve

Aboriginal Legal Aid BCThe Family Homes on Reserve and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act brings into force new laws regarding homes on reserve as of December 16, 2014. The law details who can stay in the family home on a reserve if you and your spouse split up or your spouse passes away.

The law highlights the issue of status. You may be able to remain in the family home even if you’re not a First Nation member and your spouse is.

LSS’s Aboriginal Legal Aid BC website has resources and information to help guide you through the new law.

Why the law was needed

If you were not a First Nations member or status Indian, and your relationship ended or your spouse died, you may not have been allowed to remain in the family home. Due to the negative impact on families – particularly women and children – the law was needed to provide families with rights and options.

What you’ll need to know

Aboriginal Legal Aid BC lists for whom the law applies:

  • At least one of you is a First Nation member or status Indian
  • You’re married (spouses)
  • You’re common law (living with your partner for at least a year)
  • You live on a First Nation reserve

Who the Law Doesn’t Apply To

The Aboriginal Legal Aid BC website has a list of persons the new law doesn’t apply to including if your reserve has a self-government agreement, its own land code or its own matrimonial real property laws.

Any upset to the family dynamic can be stressful. For families on reserve, the added weight of matrimonial real property rights and who can remain in the family home on reserve can potentially increase pressure and stress on all parties involved. It is important to note courts will consider the best interests of the children as keeping connections to their First Nations culture, social and family ties are essential.