The Indigenous Blacks & Mi'kmaq (IB&M) Initiative at the Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University is a program that ensures access to legal education and access to justice for African Nova Scotian and Mi'kmaq communities, and other Black and Aboriginal applicants. Its mandate is to reduce discrimination by increasing the representation of Black and Aboriginal lawyers.
This Best Practice reduces structural and systemic discrimination by increasing the representation of African Nova Scotian and Mi'kmaq, and other Black and Aboriginal lawyers, through an affirmative law school admission and support program that targets Black and Aboriginal students.
The work of the IB&M Initiative involves community outreach and recruiting; providing a range of student support; developing scholarship in the areas of Aboriginal law and African Canadian legal perspectives; providing career placement support, and working with partners to reduce discrimination by addressing the legal and related needs of African Nova Scotians and Mi'kmaq, both on and off reserve.
The IB&M Initiative was developed in response to centuries of exclusion of the Mi'kmaq and African Nova Scotians from legal education and the legal profession, which in turn inhibited the ability of their communities to access justice.
The creation of the IB&M Initiative was the result of a number of factors, including: the efforts of African Nova Scotians and Mi'kmaq to gain access to legal education and the legal profession, and to address racism in the legal profession; the 1989 Royal Commission on the Donald Marshall Jr. Prosecution, which examined racism in the justice system; a Dalhousie University-wide study on access to education, and the willingness of faculty at Dalhousie Law School to develop such a program.
The initiative's focus is on First Nations and African Canadians, as these two groups have faced historical disadvantage arising from colonialism and enslavement. These groups have been particularly excluded from the administration of justice, while often being disproportionately the subjects of the justice system through, for example, facing disproportionate levels of incarceration.
The initiative works to achieve its overall goal through recruiting, admitting and supporting promising Black and Aboriginal law students, so that they can obtain a legal education and go on to be agents of change.
The legacy of colonialism and slavery, residential and segregated schools, and of economic, social, political and cultural exclusion has characterized the experience of the Mi'kmaq and African Nova Scotians. Injustice in every sense has permeated their history.
The Marshall Inquiry concluded in 1989 that Donald Marshall Jr. was a victim of racism and incompetence, and that the injustice he experienced in the legal system was due, at least in part, to the fact that he was Mi'kmaq. At that time, "out of the almost 1,200 lawyers in Nova Scotia, there were only about a dozen Black lawyers and no Mi'kmaq lawyers," the Marshall Report found.
Consequently, the Marshall Commission concluded that increasing the number of lawyers from the respective communities would make the legal profession more representative and more just. It recommended that the IB&M Initiative "receive the financial support of the Governments of Canada and Nova Scotia, and the Nova Scotia Bar."
Making a Difference
Since its launch in 1989, over 150 Black and Aboriginal law students have graduated, and have become individual points of access to justice for their communities, while undertaking direct access to justice work.
IB&M Initiative students have a positive impact on and for their communities, both during law school and upon graduation. Its alumni include at least half a dozen Crown Attorneys working throughout the province and many more lawyers working directly for communities through Legal Aid, private practice and government, and still others who are legal advisors and leaders within leading First Nations organizations.
The initiative is successful because of the ongoing commitment of students, faculty, the Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University, the Department of Justice, the legal profession (including the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society and the Law Foundations of Nova Scotia and Ontario), alumni, its communities and allies. It is an integrated and cooperative approach that involves many partners.
The most significant challenge inherent in the work is meeting the overwhelming and ongoing need for legal education and legal services, and managing expectations about how the IB&M Initiative and its partners can realistically respond to that need.
For example, providing student financial support is a key aspect to maintaining access to legal education, and that becomes more difficult as tuition continues to increase.
Another challenge has been to dispel misconceptions that the IB&M Initiative is somehow a separate academic program. This is done through clearly written promotional material.
Vision for the Future
The IB&M Initiative hopes to help diversify areas of the legal profession where African Canadians and Aboriginal Peoples are still underrepresented, such as on law faculties and the judiciary. It also hopes to formalize its growing alumni network in order to further leverage their skills and talents in aid of underserved communities.
About the Indigenous Blacks & Mi'kmaq Initiative
The Indigenous Blacks & Mi'kmaq Initiative was developed and launched in 1989 in response to a number of factors, including the report of the Royal Commission of the Donald Marshall Jr. Prosecution (Marshall Report). It serves Mi'kmaq and African Nova Scotian communities in particular, and African Canadians and Aboriginal Peoples more generally, thereby focusing on historically disadvantaged and underserved groups.
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