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Aboriginal law moot a unique experience

The Kawaskimhon “Talking Circle Moot,” has been running for over 20 years, moving from university to university, an annual tradition that brings together Canada’s top minds in Aboriginal law and negotiations.

[Kawaskimhon Moot]
The Kawaskimhon “Talking Circle Moot” logo was designed by Queen’s Arts and Science staff member Sarah Chapman.

Taking place at Queen’s University from March 11-13, Kawaskimhon is a moot unlike any other, bringing together Aboriginal scholars and students of Aboriginal law from across the country.

Even the name Kawaskimhon, which means “speaking with knowledge,” belies what makes this event distinctive. 

Rather than have teams opposing each other against adjudicating judges, teams in the Kawaskimhon moot sit down on opposite sides of a table and negotiate, with one team representing an Aboriginal group, and the other a government agency.

“The interesting thing about this moot is that there’s no award, no winning, it’s about building a consensus,” says the organizer, Hugo Choquette, (Law’05, LLM’10) a PhD in Law candidate. “Most of the time that doesn’t happen, which is very realistic, it doesn’t happen in real life either.” 

The true value, he explains, is in the experience and the perspectives that students gain. 

“On the one hand you have students learning lawyering skills and how to represent clients; if you are a student representing First Nations, learning how to address the government, negotiate with them, and vice versa for the students representing the government. But another part of it is understanding how traditional Indigenous principles and views interact with Canadian law,” Mr. Choquette says. “Our clients tell us this is what their belief systems are, what their viewpoints are, and this is what they want, but these are things that don’t always fit into the framework of Canadian law, and you have to wrestle with that.”

Mr. Choquette says he is looking forward to welcoming Aboriginal leaders, scholars and law students from across the country. 

“With all of Canada’s English-speaking law schools sending at least two team members, and sometimes three or four, plus coaches, elders, and community members, it can be a sizeable group,” he says.

The weekend event will also feature a film screening, social events, and opportunities for current and future leaders in Aboriginal law to connect and discuss the pressing issues of the day.

Mr. Choquette says that the moot is the core of the experience, but the benefits also stem from that connectivity. 

“Students get to meet people that are knowledgeable in these issues across Canada; the coaches are leading Aboriginal scholars from across Canada. You also get the experience of being immersed in Aboriginal customs and cultures. You have the elders there, directing things, something that students wouldn’t normally find in law school.”

With planning and problem creation – another collaborative project, this time between Choquette, other faculty, community members, and even his former students – underway, Mr. Choquette is looking forward to next year’s opportunity to host. 

“With the recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, this is an exciting time to be examining these issues,” he says. “I look forward to being part of that national conversation, and helping provide a venue for it.”

Editor's note: an earlier version of this story indicated that the Aboriginal law moot would also coincide with the Indigenous Graduate and Professional Days at Queen's. The latter event has been cancelled due to low enrollment. If you are interested in visiting Queen's, please contact Lisa Doxtator at Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre.