Oral History, Indigenous Peoples, and the Law

With the support of the Indigenous Initiatives Fund at the University of Manitoba, Bryan introduced a new course at the law school on Indigenous People Oral History and the Law. He also released this year a collection of oral histories of Indigenous jurists and policy-makers from Manitoba. It is available for free public access at the Manitoba Law Journal website and other e-locations, including Google Play.

Information about Oral History, Indigenous Peoples, and the Law course can be found on the Robson Hall website and is reproduced here:

Course Title: Oral History, Indigenous Peoples, and the Law (Schwartz)

Course Number: LAW 3980

Category: Courses, Second or Third Year

Course Description: “Oral history can present greater opportunities for understanding historical events than the recitation of bare facts. It can reveal the intellectual, social, spiritual and emotional cognition of the event for the group in question.”

John Borrows, Listening for a Change: The Courts and Oral Tradition (Toronto, ON: Osgoode Hall Law Journal 39, 2001)

Oral histories and oral traditions are serving increasingly vital roles in the Canadian legal and political systems. Oral history is being used in the courts, comprehensive and specific land claims processes, treaty interpretation, land use and occupancy studies, and as an educational tool. The individual, family, and community histories in the oral tradition help to bring complicated issues to life. They also support archival and archaeological evidence, particularly for issues where there is little documentary record.

In this course students will explore the roots of this dynamic, yet ancient, phenomenon. Guest Lecturers will explain the concepts and practices of oral history including biblical oral traditions, African oral traditions, as well as the disparate and unique media and methodologies of remembering the past. Students will consider the public perceptions of oral history, the modes of memory recall, orality relation and transmission. Students will study the effect of trauma, the reliability of eye witness testimony, and the specific physical Indigenous traditions of memory encoding.

Background Reading: Bruce Granville Jones, Oral History on Trial: Recognizing Aboriginal Narratives in the Courts (UBC Press 2012) available through UM Library

Guest Lecturers: Ms. Joan Jack, Professor David Ireland, Professor John Borrows, Dr. Emőke J.E. Szathmáry and Professor Darren Courchene

Oral History Workshop Facilitators: University of Winnipeg Oral History Centre

Teaching Method: Lectures, skills workshops, and self-learning module.

Assessment: For this semester’s offering of the course, in addition to the existing substantial paper requirement, students have the alternative of substituting for the paper requirement the submission of 7 short papers. The students who choose this option will receive credit for a “regular” elective course, not a Research & Writing (aka Perspective) course.

Course Materials: UMLearn

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