March 21, 1997 Halifax Herald

Patti Doyle-Bedwell: Mi'kmaq woman triumphs at law school

Patti, our story's luminary, was born to Frank and Harriet Doyle (Battiste) in Bangor, Maine, on November 11, 1958. She is the eldest in a family of two girls. Sadly, her father passed away in 1965.

With Frank's untimely death, the task of raising the girls fell exclusively to the shoulders of Harriet. She proved to be more than up to the task. While earning a living as a hospital worker, she managed to instill in her children a desire to acquire a well-rounded education.

With mom's wisdom as a guide, Patti attended schools in Bangor intent on achieving. To no one's surprise, she was an honours graduate 1977 at Bangor's John Bapst High.

As a result of her excellent high school performance, Patti was recommended by the staff of John Bapst for, and then inducted into, the National Honours Society. After completing high school, Patti worked at various enterprises until 1980, at which time she moved to Nova Scotia.

After establishing residence in Halifax, Patti, while holding down a full-time job, enrolled in classes at Dalhousie on a part-time basis. In 1989, wanting to finish her degree work, she left her job and took up full-time studies - graduating in 1991 with an honours degree in Sociology. Patti then enrolled in courses at Dalhousie Law School, from which she graduated in 1993 with an LLB. She has since then she has continued legal studies on a part-time basis, working to gain the few more credits needed for a Masters Degree.

During this time, Harriet's Indian status, which was taken away when she married Frank, a non Indian, was restored and she moved home to Chapel Island. The restoration of status was made possible by Parliament's enactment in 1985 of Bill C.31, which repealed the discriminatory enfranchisement sections of the Indian Act. The amendments also made provisions for registering the children of re-instated women to a mother's band. Thus, Harriet's daughters are now registered as members of the Chapel Island Band.

Patti, because of her scholastic record, was recruited in 1994 to teach at Dalhousie on a part-time basis. Then, in early 1995, she signed a two-year contract with the University to teach Public Law on a full-time basis, thus becoming the law school's first teacher of Mi'kmaq ancestry.

Regrettably, since entering law school, both as a student and as a teacher, Patti has discovered what other Native teachers and other Native students have discovered: dealing with the hurt of being victimized by racism goes hand in hand with a Native person's learning and teaching activities at the school.

Having lived and worked in the USA and Canada, experiencing the racial intolerance each has to offer, I have determined that Canada is the more racist of the two. The US does not deny that it has a sad history, as far as establishing racial equality among its citizens is concerned, and thus it works constantly to overcome the damage caused by it.

In Canada, which has a history of racial intolerance that is just as appalling as that of the United States, there is denial and a consequent reluctance to take the hard decisions which are needed to cure it.

It seems that the powers that be in this country believe that if they keep saying, long enough and often enough, that the problem is non-existent, or only a minor irritant, everyone will believe it and as such it will eventually disappear. This will not happen. Denial and wishful thinking will not cure racism; only acknowledgement and forthright and responsible action will!

When asked - based on her experiences residing in both countries - which country harboured the worst racist attitudes, Patti concurred with my conclusion that Canada won the dubious prize. She finds the practice of racism in Canada to be almost what one could describe as professionalised. Like others, she has found that it is practised in such a sophisticated manner that its hard to pin down.

I personally categorize it as being a subtle racial discrimination which has effectively prevented and stymied the advancement of Natives and other non-whites in almost every field of social endeavour.

From personal observation and knowledge, Patti feels that Mi'kmaq and Black graduates from the Indigenous Black and Mi’kmaq Program are stigmatizes in the minds of many in the legal profession, because of a belief that the Program is inferior to the regular law Program. This is reprehensible. There is not a shred of evidence to support a belief by anyone that the Program is inferior., The requirements for graduation from it are the same as those set for the general population of the law school.

All should keep this in mind: The Program was not created to cater to the needs of a people who are not intellectual equals; it was created as a tool to end the under-representation of Natives and Blacks in the justice system, which was caused by racial discrimination.

Whether they graduate via the IBM Program or the normal route, until there is a bona fide commitment made by the legal profession to employ them, the method of graduation is not material to Black and Native employment in the justice system. The ideal espoused by society of seeing Natives and Blacks reach par representation in the justice system will not be realized by lip service. Action is needed now!

Patti Doyle-Bedwell lives in Halifax with her husband George, and son Mike. She is a friendly, intelligent and hard-working woman who is a member of a scholastic honours society. She deserves the opportunity to prove her professional worth. In the process of so doing. she deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, not racially motivated disparagement.

Keep the faith Patti, we all take pride in your many accomplishments!

Daniel N. Paul


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