Indigenous Intercultural Competency

“Our” responsibility?


Indigenous Intercultural Competency

An inclusive, equitable and culturally competent legal profession in British Columbia has been the subject of great discussion. Indigenous intercultural competency while lawyering is essential for reconciliation and creating healthy professional environments for lawyers.

Indigenous lawyers are often asked to inform non-Indigenous colleagues about Indigenous cultural background, systemic disruptions and to answer questions about Indigenous peoples. How must lawyers acquire cultural competencies relevant to their practice? This remains a vital question for the profession. While it is evident that all lawyers need to educate themselves about Indigenous history, including Indigenous Peoples’ present and ongoing struggles with colonialism; this often becomes a baffling inquiry in professional environments.

Indigenous lawyers in the legal environment are likely to experience negative impacts when colleagues or workplaces are not culturally competent. For example, when Indigenous lawyers are called upon to educate non-Indigenous lawyers about Canada’s history and ongoing colonialism, it can create a professional environment that is not equitable or healthy. The inequity stems from the added burden placed on Indigenous lawyers of “informing” about aspects directly related to their cultural background as it relates to systemic colonial disruptions.

A similar inequity exists for Indigenous students attending post-secondary institutions. A report by Indspire described this type of scenario in institutions as emotional labour. Indigenous students are often called upon “to bear some responsibility for the transformation of the post-secondary system, as part of healing and reconciliation.” Indigenous students often want to be a part of actively informing the cultural competency of their law school, the legal profession and reversing systemic discrimination and barriers in the legal profession. This task, however, can exhaust their time and resources. Ultimately, an unequitable professional environment leads to an unhealthy work environment. The question becomes, then, how to move forward in creating a culturally competent legal professional environment hand-in-hand with Indigenous students, lawyers and the entire legal profession?

From a historical perspective, Indigenous peoples were not permitted to organize or retain a lawyer until 1951. Discrimination against Indigenous peoples in Canada is rooted in legislative barriers that linger systemically. Non-Indigenous peoples living in Canada are not expected to inform who they are in professional environments in the same way that many Indigenous peoples in Canada are often expected to inform non-Indigenous peoples about their cultural identity as it relates to colonial disruptions. The key to creating a culturally competent legal environment thus involves reversing systemic discrimination and creating access to justice for Indigenous peoples engaging with the legal system.

Recently, the Law Society of British Columbia (“LSBC”) moved to require Indigenous cultural competency training for all practising lawyers in BC in a clear effort to build an inclusive, equitable and culturally competent legal profession. The Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action (“CTA”) offer important guidance. CTA 27 calls upon law societies across Canada to address the gaps in legal education through cultural competency training. For many Indigenous law students and lawyers, the LSBC course is a promising step toward implementing CTA 27.

These active steps toward implementing cultural competency training within the profession beg an important question: Although this new course shows promise, how will we measure the impacts of the cultural competency filtering into legal practice in the profession?

A good measure of whether cultural competency training was effective, may include considering when Indigenous lawyers feel they are less obliged to furnish cultural competency in their professional environments. For example, a positive outcome of a survey of Indigenous students and professionals indicating culturally competent environments have been achieved. Another measure will include an overall outcome of public confidence in the legal profession; enhanced through the infiltration of cultural competency training active in the legal profession.

Keeping in mind these changes and efforts to include cultural competency in the legal profession, we can hope to build and look forward to a greater sense of inclusive, equitable professional experiences.