Calgary Legal Guidance

Before Being Judged

By Sarah Sinclair, Lawyer – Indigenous Law at CLG

Sahwoo mohkaak tsi ma taas (Blackfoot for Before Being Judged) exists to fill a gap in access to justice for Indigenous people. It fulfills two main goals of Calgary Legal Guidance:

“CLG will embrace the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report.”

“CLG will effect systemic change in the legal system.”

Who do we serve?
Indigenous people and everyone involved in the legal system.
We serve Indigenous individuals who cannot afford legal services. There is a gap in access to the legal system for Indigenous people who have issues other lawyers cannot or will not handle. There is a gap between the proportion of Indigenous people who need legal services and the percentage of Indigenous clients CLG serves.  We try to address those gaps.
We are trying to effect systemic change by educating people involved in the legal system. Therefore, we serve through education efforts, legal professionals, the bench, students, other Indigenous-serving professionals, law firms and other legal organizations, and CLG staff, Board members, and volunteers.
Our Team: we have three program members, a lawyer, an Indigenous Education and Client Services Facilitator, and an articling student. We also have an Advisory Council.
Articling Student: the intention of this role is to support an articling student to become an ethical and community-minded member of the profession with experience working with Indigenous clients. The Sahwoo mohkaak tsi ma taas student will participate in their cohort’s general training and duties as assigned by any CLG lawyer, most of which will overlap with their program duties. Like all CLG articling students they receive training and work from all CLG programs, giving them a varied experience unique to CLG articles. However, the SMTMT student must save room in their schedule for program duties, which might result in them being unavailable for other duties.
Facilitator: the intention of this role is to develop relationships with and serve and support the elders who support us. This role also helps develop and maintain hearty relationships with community organizations that provide services to Indigenous people and provides teachings to CLG to enhance its cultural awareness and empathy. This role organizes and keeps data for the program events and clinics, education sessions and the Advisory Committee.
Lawyer: the intention of this role is to provide legal services to Indigenous people who meet CLG’s income guidelines. They provide all articling students and volunteer students with opportunities to engage with Indigenous clients and the Indigenous community. The lawyer provides education sessions both externally and internally, attends the Indigenous Court, and oversees consultation activities.
Structure:  our program structure has four core elements with culture as a common bond: lawyering, education, consultation, and knowledge-keeping.
The Lawyering aspect of the program involves individual client files, supervising the Indigenous articling student, supervising law school students in the Pro Bono Students Canada Indigenous Law Project, and mentoring law students.
The Education
aspect of the program has an internal and external focus. We offer sessions with elders and knowledge keepers to our colleagues at CLG, the Board members, and our hundreds of volunteer lawyers. This is our effort to “Indigenize” CLG and we have come a long way. To try and create systemic change to the legal system we are educating people who work with Indigenous clients on how to do so in a trauma-informed way. We do education sessions on request.
We consult regularly with our elders, Advisory Council, and clients to make sure we are providing services in a good way. We participate in community groups with other organizations that serve Indigenous clients.  

If you would like to learn more about our Sahwoo mohkaak tsi ma taas program, please reach out to me!

Sarah Sinclair BA JD
Lawyer, Sahwoo mohkaak tsi ma taas

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