Written by Rebecca Johnson (ILRU Associate Director) and Val Napoleon (ILRU Director)


Difficult conversations.

How do we have them, and have them in productive ways?

This is a question that preoccupies many people who are trying to make sense of the ways that Indigenous and Canadian legal orders might live in relationship to another.

Indigenous law can be taught and learned in many ways, and one of these is with a pedagogy of discomfort. This involves staying with an uncomfortable problem long enough that we can begin to unpack our own assumptions and see how our work challenges and maintains relations of power and oppression. We firmly believe that Indigenous feminisms can help us with this uncomfortable yet important work.

Val Napoleon traces out a path in a new piece of writing titled, “Indigenous Women Talking: The Work of Indigenous Feminisms in the World”. It is forthcoming in a collection of papers provisionally titled Critical Indigenous Feminisms (edited by Emily Snyder, Val Napoleon and Rebecca Johnson).

In this paper, Val imagines a grandmother feminist trickster Raven eavesdropping on a variety of complicated conversations. These are conversations that rarely happen in public, taking place between people who matter to each other.

What might be learned if we, like Raven, were to sit on the sidelines and listen to some of these conversations? Might this help us think through challenging aspects of the work of Indigenous law, and the importance of Indigenous feminist legal thinking?

If you are adventurous, and comfortable with a world of low-production values, we invite you to join us and be our audience in an experiment in reading-aloud. On a slow COVID-19 morning in June, reflecting on the socially distant and online world into which we have been flung, we used Zoom to record ourselves reading the paper, lifting the voices traced out in ink-on-paper into the world of the audible.

We invite you to listen to these five conversations, imagined in different places, and at different times. As you listen, here are two questions to take forward:

Was there a conversation that made you uncomfortable? Why do you think that is?

What would make you more uncomfortable? Why?


Raven (circa 2020): Raven reflects on difficult conversations as a tool for thinking.

Lucy and Clara (circa 2040): Two 80-year-old women reflect on being ‘elders’.


Maria and Charlie (circa 2020): Two cousins struggle through a conversation about pipelines and politics.


Jimmy and Mack (circa 2025): Two colleagues discuss gender politics and Indigenous male privilege.


Boyce and Rossie (circa 2048): Two brothers plan the speech they will give at the 30-year anniversary of the Indigenous Law Degree Program, focused on the importance of Indigenous feminism to Indigenous law and to their respective careers in law.


Rebecca asks Val about what inspired her to write the paper in this way.


Blooper reel, capturing Rebecca’s utter failure to correctly pronounce “L’ikhts’amisysu”, and Val’s gentle corrections.

 The paper and new technology remind us that disagreement, discomfort and missteps are an inevitable part of the work of law, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. Just as inevitably, conversation, engagement, curiosity and laughter can carry us forward through the challenges.