A new letter of the law

(Edmonton) Lawyer, mother, former youth worker, caretaker of tradition. Hadley Friedland is all of these things, and, as a PhD student at the University of Alberta, has managed to tie them together in an intriguing thesis project.

Her innovative doctoral research into the law within Cree stories has earned Friedland a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship, one of 11 awarded to U of A students this year. Friedland, based in the Faculty of Law, is among the outstanding students, faculty, researchers and staff being honoured at Celebrate!, the university’s annual celebration of teaching, learning and research, being held Sept. 16 at the Myer Horowitz Theatre.

As the mother of two Cree children, Friedland holds a deep respect for Aboriginal traditions, and believes that applying some of their practical principles to the legal field can improve outcomes for people involved in the justice system.

“I think law is a resource for reasoning and solving problems, and I think there are Cree legal principles that can be explored as useful tools for today’s issues. I see practical ways to bridge some gaps in how the Canadian justice system interacts with Aboriginal peoples—even beyond recognized protocols as to what is culturally appropriate.

“My goal is to put Aboriginal legal traditions on the same footing as other legal traditions in Canada.”

After earning a child and youth care diploma at Grant MacEwan University, Friedland worked with troubled teens for several years teaching life skills, then returned to school to earn a law degree from the University of Victoria. She then went on to earn her master’s degree in law at the U of A.

“I want my work to contribute to the lives of the children I worked with and the children I know and have now. I wanted to do something practical that I hope will make their future better.”

Friedland’s doctoral thesis explores how Cree legal principles can be practically applied to address today’s issues, with possible applications to governance, criminal and family law issues, and through consultation on Aboriginal and treaty rights. Her work builds on her master’s thesis that, in the context of child victimization, studied stories of the Windigo, a dreaded figure who brought harm to a community.

“There are stories about group responses to the Windigo that could apply equally today to people who are, for example, struggling with violence or addiction,” Friedland said. “Aboriginal societies had intellectual resources—principled ways of solving those human issues before the Europeans arrived.”

She sees the Windigo stories as part of a legal category containing principles for dealing with violent offenders. Her PhD research is exploring other applications and a broader variety of Cree stories as well. “What other categories are there, and what do they look like?”

Initially drawn to the U of A by her supervisor and law professor Val Napoleon, a leading indigenous legal theorist in Canada, Friedland also soon discovered a network of scholarly support that has enhanced her research experience here.

“The faculty is small and supportive and engaged, so I have had opportunities I would not have had elsewhere. There is a growing graduate community at the U of A interested and committed to indigenous issues, so there are great interdisciplinary opportunities as well.”

Valued at $50,000 a year for three years, the Vanier scholarship will allow a grateful Friedland to provide for her family, take a break from teaching and working, while she devotes herself full time to her thesis. “It’s an amazing honour and opportunity for me, a huge gift.”

To learn about other Celebrate! click here.