First TRU Law graduates reunite a decade later at national Aboriginal Moot

Law grads reunite at moot

Thompson Rivers University’s law school served as host for the 30th annual Kawaskimhon Moot earlier this month, bringing back graduates from the school’s inaugural class a decade later to help coach teams and organize the national event.

The Kawaskimhon Moot brought together 20 law schools across the country for a non-adversarial moot that incorporates Indigenous legal traditions alongside, federal, provincial and international law.

Chrystie Stewart, sessional instructor, coach for TRU Law teams and member of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, said while a traditional moot attempts to simulate a courtroom, the Kawaskimhon Moot focuses on dispute resolution. Stewart said this makes it more realistic, as the majority of issues settled by lawyers is done through negotiation.

“It’s a tough transition to make from being in a student mindset to going and having to be an oral advocate for their clients, so it’s a fun process to watch,” Stewart said

“It gives the students the ability to kind of bring their papers to life and then be able to debate it on the spot in a simulated negotiation, so it is quite remarkable.”

Participants in the moot partake in a roundtable negotiation, as they represent their assigned party’s positions. Facilitators guide the discussions with the goal of reaching a consensus.

This year’s moot focused on the Trans Mountain's pipeline deviation on the Stk’emlúpsemc te Secwépemc Nation lands near Jacko Lake, just south of Kamloops.

A decade after graduation

Stewart was one of several members of TRU Law’s inaugural graduating class that volunteered to help run the event nearly a decade after they graduated.

Murray Sholty, member of the Hagwilget who graduated with Stewart in 2014 and is now a tenure-track assistant professor in the law school, said this year’s moot was a major milestone.

“It's the 30th year and this is the first ever national law moot that Thompson Rivers University and the Faculty of Law have ever hosted,” Sholty said.

“It was a great experience for us all to reunite and then work on holding this fantastic event for TRU Law.”

Sholty had entered the law school’s first class as a mature student, previously holding careers teaching martial arts and in forestry in Fort Fraser.

Miranda Seymour, member of the Lheidli T'enneh Nation in Prince George and a policy analyst with the BC First Nations Justice Council, said the event was a bit of a “homecoming” for some of the graduates of her class.

Speaking of her experience in the law school over a decade ago, Seymour said the law students were constantly being shuffled around until the law school was finished construction in their last year.

“I guess it was part of being the new kids on the block and part of the new law school,” Seymour said.

“We knew there was going to be growing pains and we’re gonna have to roll with everything that was going on. Everything was new and exciting and growing.”

Seymour said she was the founding vice-president of the Indigenous Law Students Association club at the university, which continues to be run today.

Stewart, Sholty, Seymour and current Alberta-based lawyer Mardi McNaughton all participated in the moot as students in 2013, making up TRU’s first Kawaskimhon Moot team.

A different way of thinking

Sholty said the law school has developed significantly since he was a student, introducing more Indigenous-focused content and traditional laws into courses.

"They've added a lot more courses, so they have a couple I teach — so it's First Nations governance and economic development, First Nationals business and taxation," Sholty said.

"I think it's a work in progress but they're doing really well."

Stewart said participating in the moot functions as a course in the law school with students primarily being marked on actively participating, which she says helps build their confidence.

“I think it’s kind of easy to get pushed aside in law school and just put your head down and write your papers and write your exams,” Stewart said.

“That is the beautiful part about [the moot], the students really kind of come to life and feel good about themselves.”

Seymour said the moot encourages participating students to think about the law differently.

“You’re really coming together to try to incorporate some Indigenous laws and some Indigenous ways of thinking and just how to do things and more of that alternative dispute resolution type model,” she said.

The 2024 national Kawaskimhon Moot was held from March 8 to 9 on TRU's campus.

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