I Will Vote in Favour of the Entrance Scholarship for Aboriginal Law Students
On Wednesday, March 2nd students of Queen’s Law have the opportunity to choose how to spend a portion of the LSS’ current surplus. I will be voting to use the funds to create an entrance scholarship for Aboriginal law students.
This would be an investment in the long-term betterment of the law school.
We are all familiar with the narrative of Canada’s colonial past. Last year, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin acknowledged the historical treatment of First Nations as “cultural genocide.”
This history is in the not-so-distant past.
For example, until 1951, section 141 of the Indian Act forbid any First Nations person or band from retaining a lawyer for the purpose of making a land claim against the government of Canada. Even the act of raising the funds to hire legal counsel was an offence punishable by a fine or imprisonment.
It was not until 1960 that Aboriginal peoples were granted the full right to vote in federal elections. Before that time, voting was conditional upon the renunciation of treaty rights and Indian status.
Until 1961, any First Nations person who completed professional qualification as a doctor or lawyer lost Indian status under the so-called “compulsory enfranchisement” provisions contained in section 112 of the Indian Act.
Our legal system, designed to ensure fairness and the protection of rights, long excluded and marginalized Aboriginal peoples.
The last few decades have brought some positive changes.
A body of case law has emerged recognizing the sui generis nature of Aboriginal title and the framework for the protection of treaty rights under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. In its groundbreaking 2014 decision Tsilhqot’in, the Supreme Court made its first declaration of Aboriginal title.
The final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which documents the history and legacy of Canada’s residential school system, puts forward numerous proposals for renewing a historically strained relationship.
In February, Lakehead law school appointed Angelique EagleWoman as its dean, the first Aboriginal woman to hold such a post.
While progress is being made under the law, there is still more to do in creating equal opportunities for Aboriginal students.
The Post-Secondary Student Support Program (PSSSP) is available to First Nations students, but funding levels have not kept pace with inflation, rising tuition costs and the needs of a growing population. Between 2006 and 2011, over 18,000 First Nations youth were unable to receive PSSSP support, in large part because the program is subject to a 2% cap on annual funding increases.
The program is simply not sufficient on its own to address the well-documented gap in post-secondary attainment between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal youth in Canada.
Closing the gap in education— as well as health, labour force participation and income— is a collective responsibility, and I believe that educational institutions have a role to play.
The proposed entrance scholarship would be funded in partnership between the LSS and the faculty. Each would contribute $25,000 to create a $50,000 endowment, yielding approximately $2,000 per year. Additional fundraising could increase the value.
Eight law schools in Canada, including U of T, Osgoode and Windsor, already offer such a scholarship.
The scholarship at Queen’s would leverage existing LSS funds to create an enduring benefit to promote the inclusion of Aboriginal students in a legal regime that, for many years, excluded them.
Centuries of oppression will not be undone by the creation of a single scholarship, but directing funds to support greater access to a legal education for one Aboriginal student each year is something within our reach.
I will be voting to extend that opportunity.
Jess Spindler (3L) is a contributor to Juris Diction.