The Law Society of the Northwest Territories is launching an action group to study ways that Northern lawyers can respond to recommendations from the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Shannon Cumming, a Métis from Fort Smith, N.W.T., became the first indigenous president of the law society earlier this month. He said the project will confront the legacy of residential schools in the N.W.T. and find ways for lawyers to contribute to reconciliation.

Shannon Cumming

Shannon Cumming became the first indigenous president of the Law Society of the N.W.T. earlier this month. (CBC)

"As lawyers that have an obligation to act in the public interest. We think we need to inform ourselves about things that have happened in our history," Cumming said.

"This is the start of a conversation among lawyers about how we can work together to help see if we can find some ways to respond to the calls to action from the TRC."

The report urged the Federation of Canadian Law Societies to ensure that lawyers receive training in cultural competency, "which includes the history and legacy of residential schools."

Legal legacy

Cumming said the Canadian legal community had a historic hand in creating the residential school system because lawyers with the federal government were involved in creating the legislation that gave rise to the schools.

The N.W.T. has around 160 resident lawyers and another 250 from outside the territory who regularly practice there, Cumming said. Many northern lawyers aid reconciliation by working on land claim and self-government negotiations, but he said the territory's lawyers can do more.

The legacy of residential school is close to Cumming. His grandmothers attended residential schools in Fort Resolution and Fort Chipewyan.

"A lot of what I experienced growing up and listening to my elders and the things that they told me about the history kind of drove me towards law school," he said.

"Métis, as a community, have a real sense of fairness and justice, partially because of the treatment they've been given."