Lakehead University students Stephanie MacLaurin and Sebastian Murdoch-Gibson launched a sit-in with up to 20-30 other students next to the university president’s office over changes to a full-credit indigenous course at the university’s new law school.

By Rick Garrick

THUNDER BAY – Fort William’s Stephanie MacLaurin plans to continue sitting in at Lakehead University until a full-credit indigenous course is reintegrated into the new law school’s curriculum. “We are not going until we have our (full-credit course) back,” the LU political science pre-law student said on the afternoon of March 2. “This has been an amazing experience – I’ve grown so much in a week. Sebastian (Murdoch-Gibson, an LU indigenous learning student) and I have been here day and night and we have four or five other people who are here all the time. Some days we have anywhere from 20 to 30 people sitting in the office.”

The LU students began their sit-in next to LU president Brian Stevenson’s office since the morning of Feb. 25 over the law school’s plans to change the full-credit Native Canadian World Views course to a half-credit Native Canadian World Views and Law course.
The students feel the change conflicts with LU’s successful proposal to create the law school with the full-credit course after its first proposal without the full-credit course failed.

MacLaurin says the full-credit course, offered through the Indigenous Learning Faculty, might not have a law name but it is “heavy law.”
“Most of Native Canadian World Views is law,” MacLaurin says. “It breaks down the constitution, it talks about the criminal code, it brings into consideration the Royal Proclamation, any acts that have affected Canadian Indians over hundreds of years.”
MacLaurin is also concerned about comments from the law school dean, Lee Stuesser, that the full-credit course is only a second-year undergraduate course. “I think he’s taking away from the course by saying that,” MacLaurin says. “He’s going to put into people’s mind the idea that because it is a second-year, and only a second-year undergraduate program, that it might not be worth it. We disagree with that.”

Stuesser says the suggestion that Native Canadian World Views was intended to be taught in the law program is not correct.
“What is correct is that a course on Native Canadian World Views was to be taught,” Stuesser said in a Feb. 28 media release. “It is important to the credibility of the course and the law program that Native Canadian World Views be taught as a law course, subject to the standards, evaluation and regulation of the Faculty of Law.” 

Stuesser says no other law school in Canada would require a mandatory non-law course as part of its first year program. “Characterizing it as a law course is the approach that best respects the indigenous perspective and means that indigenous legal traditions receive the same respect and are placed on an equal footing with the common law,” Stuesser says.

Stuesser says the half-credit course and the half-credit Foundations of Canadian Law course, which presents a western world view, would provide students with an interesting comparison between the common and Native world view.