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Law student encourages deeper understanding of treaty histories

On March 21, the Queen’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission Task Force presented its final report with recommendations to the university community. The historical milestone was marked with an event that day at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre. The Gazette is featuring profiles of Indigenous members of the TRC Task Force. Today, the focus is on Jason Mercredi (Law’18), a member of Queen’s Senate and the Aboriginal representative on the Queen’s Law Students’ Society.

Prospective students will often ask what a university or college will offer them. Jason Mercredi flipped that question when he was considering his post-secondary options a few years ago.

“I understood that Queen’s wasn’t well known for its Aboriginal content, but that the law school wanted to improve its Aboriginal profile,” says Mr. Mercredi (Law’18). “With my experience working with Aboriginal communities to develop programs, I felt I could offer something to Queen’s in the same way the university is offering me a degree.”

[Jason Mercredi]
Jason Mercredi (Law'18) says he found it rewarding serving on Queen's Truth and Reconciliation Task Force. He is hopeful the recommendations put forth by the task force will help Indigenous Peoples feel more comfortable attending Queen's. (University Communications) 

Mr. Mercredi, a Mushkegowuk Cree, was born in Winnipeg. Before applying to Queen’s, he worked with several organizations dedicated to advancing Aboriginal rights, including Treaty 1-11. As part of his involvement with that organization, Mr. Mercredi developed a deep understanding of the treaty histories, which influenced his decision to study law.

“Understanding the history of the treaties is really missing from the education system, and even in law school, we don’t really learn about the treaties,” he says. “People don’t have a full understanding of the nation-to-nation relationship. My goal is to reinvigorate those treaties, and being at a law school, I know what changes I want to make to have those rights recognized.”

Soon after arriving at the university, Mr. Mercredi began working to make Queen’s law students more aware of Aboriginal treaty and inherent rights. He established the Aboriginal Law Students’ Alliance, a group designed to help all Queen’s law students appreciate and participate in Aboriginal legal matters with greater understanding.

In 2016, he and fellow law students changed the Law Students’ Society’s constitution to include a longstanding Indigenous student representative position. Due to the small body of Indigenous students at Queen’s Law, he was subsequently elected to serve as the Indigenous student representative. That same year, Mr. Mercredi was elected as the law students’ representative on Queen’s Senate.

Offering wide knowledge to TRC Task Force

When the Queen’s TRC Task Force was announced in early 2016, Mr. Mercredi felt compelled to serve given his knowledge of treaties and his work experience. As an Aboriginal student liaison with Mothercraft College in Toronto, he worked to ensure the success of Indigenous students enrolled in the early childhood education program, and he also gave guest presentations on Indigenous history. While with Native Child and Family Services of Toronto, he assessed the social needs of the urban Indigenous population and helped create programs to address those needs.

“For a period of time, it was quite depressing, because I had to look at what was wrong, and there is so much wrong,” he says. “But that’s what elevated me to come here. That background, understanding, and knowledge is what I wanted to bring to the TRC Task Force.”

Mr. Mercredi says he enjoyed serving on the task force. He found the experience rewarding, with respectful dialogue around the table. “There was a lot of genuine interest in creating equity, which is a healthier approach than creating equality, because with equality you are just absorbed into everything else. You don’t have your real identity.”

As Queen’s now moves to implement the task force’s recommendations, Mr. Mercredi is looking forward to Indigenous identities growing and flourishing across the university in the coming years. 

“I would hope that Indigenous Peoples – First Nations, Métis, and Inuit – can just come to Queen’s and be themselves. I would hope they are able to come to Queen’s and have their own identity without having to promote it or explain it constantly. I would like to see it as a wholesome part of the entire school culture.”