NSBS 2014 Race and the Law Essay Prize: Meaghan Mahadeo

The Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society is pleased to announce Meaghan Mahadeo is the recipient of the 2014 Race and the Law Essay Prize. Ms. Mahadeo is a student at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University.

This award recognizes and encourages outstanding scholarship by law students in Nova Scotia, on topics pertaining specifically to issues of race and law. Now in its sixth year, it is presented by the Society’s Racial Equity Committee and sponsored by the Halifax law firm Stewart McKelvey.

Ms. Mahadeo’s winning paper is titled for "What’s in a name?: An Analysis of the Politics of Band Membership Codes in the Canadian Indigenous Quest for Self-Determination".

For more information on the award, including a list of past recipients, visit the Race and the Law Essay Prize page of the Society’s website: http://nsbs.org/race-and-law-essay-prize. A number of the winning papers and abstracts are also posted there.

Ms. Mahadeo's achievement was recognized by the Society at the Racial Equity Committee’s June 5 reception at Pipa Restaurant, to honour articled clerks and new calls from racialized and Aboriginal communities. She was unable to attend but offered her thanks and insights in a letter read at the event: 
"The title of my paper,  'What’s in a name?' is of course, a line borrowed from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. In the play, Juliet suggests that names don’t matter – a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet. With respect to the Great Bard, I disagree: Naming is not always a neutral act; it can be a politically charged act, an assertion of power. Names can be loaded, they can essentialize and homogenize individuals and groups and this process can cause great harm to self-identity and autonomy. In colonial and post-colonial Canada, the Indian Act has always determined who is and who is not 'Indian,' and ties this concept to who is entitled to certain rights or can access certain benefits. The conspicuous absence of Aboriginal perspective in what it means to be “Indian” is a problem, and not just a semantic one, but also a systemic one. 

At its heart my paper is about giving Canada’s Aboriginal peoples the opportunity to reclaim the concept of Aboriginality as a necessary element of reconciliation. This process requires the decolonization of the concept of 'Indian,' as determined the Indian Act, and also requires providing Canada’s Aboriginal peoples with a meaningful opportunity to re-imagine and reclaim Aboriginality, and promote self-determination and autonomy. The primary focus of my paper was an analysis of section 10(1) of the Indian Act, which permits First Nations bands to write their own membership codes, and I considered the extent to which this section of the Act encouraged Aboriginal self-determination. I conclude that while section 10(1) has the potential to do important political work in the project of reimagining and reclaiming what it means to be Aboriginal, this work is currently undermined by the colonial definition of 'Indian', still in effect under the Indian Act.  
As I mention in my paper, I believe that Canada can learn from the Scandinavian relationship with the Sami, the indigenous peoples of northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. In Norway for example, Sami registration is based on self-identification, and cultural descent by language, not blood. There is an autonomous Sami Parliament, Sami Courts, and across Scandinavia, a trans-national Sami parliamentary council, and I believe the Sami model may provide inspiration for developing similar institutions in Canada as we continue down the path of reconciliation."