Thunder Bay·Audio

Canada Reads 2016 novel Birdie takes flight as law school text

Birdie is one of five books vying for top spot in Canada Reads 2016, but the work of fiction is already taking flight at a number of Canadian law schools, where its being taught as part of the curriculum.

Book offers a different way to discuss and observe Indigenous laws, say author Tracey Lindberg

Tracey Lindberg (left), the author of Birdie discusses the book with Lakehead University law student, Elysia Petrone Reitberger. (Cathy Alex/CBC)
Using a work of fiction to gain a new insights about the law... Canada Reads contender "Birdie" is on the curriculum at a number of Canadian law schools.. We'll hear from the author, and a Lakehead University law student about why this Indigenous per 7:11

Birdie is one of five books vying for top spot in Canada Reads 2016, but the work of fiction is already taking flight at four Canadian law schools, where it is being taught as part of the curriculum.

"I propose that Birdie be approached as a Cree law text," wrote Val Napoleon, the Director of the Indigenous Law Research Unit at the Faculty of Law, University of Victoria.

The book tells the story of a Cree woman named Bernice Meetoos, who leaves her community in northern Alberta on a journey to find home and hope, after a childhood shattered by sexual abuse. Along the way, she receives help and support from several significant women in her life.

Birdie is the first novel by Tracey Lindberg, who is also a law professor at Athabasca University and the University of Ottawa.

Her hope is that the book encourages people to think about the law, not only as a series of rights, but also as a set of responsibilities and obligations to other people, and to the natural world.

"It provides a different on-ramp for us to have a conversation about law," said Lindberg, "and I'm hoping that Birdie gives people an idea of what some of the practices will be."

Her own teaching experience has shown her that law students are open to the existence and authority of Indigenous laws and orders, but rarely get a chance to observe those laws in action.

"There are not just the common law, and le droit civil in Canada- Elysia Petrone Reitberger

For instance, there are no Cree law books to refer to, and in some cases the impact of colonization has pushed even the oral traditions underground, said Lindberg, who hails from the Kelly Lake Cree Nation, in northern B.C.

"I think that, in its best composition, Indigenous laws and legal orders look like the responsibilities we have between relatives," she said.

"The women surrounding her [Bernice] start to ensure that she is fed, that she is clothed. They are living a lawful life."

Birdie is not part of the curriculum for Elysia Petrone Reitberger, who is in her final year of studies at the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay.

Many more laws

But, she said she would be thrilled to study the book in more detail in a classroom setting.

Reading the novel was a gift, she said, and she appreciated its many layers, languages - both Cree and English words are used - and teachings.

"There are not just the common law, and le droit civil in Canada. This land has many more laws that are out there, and can be taught and I think there's almost a responsibility for us to learn them, and I think we'll be a better country for it," said Reitberger.