Stephen Mussell Receives Alumni Builder Award and Gives Keynote at UBC Law Indigenous Awareness Week

On February 5, 2024, UBC awarded Mandell Pinder lawyer Stephen Mussell with an Alumni Builder Award. Stephen also gave the keynote speech at UBC’s Peter A. Allard School of Law’s Indigenous Awareness Week.

Stó:lō Hereditary Chief the Honourable Steven Point gave the welcome. It was a “full circle” moment for Stephen who, as a young president of the Indigenous Law Students’ Association at UBC, had Chief Point give a keynote speech at Indigenous Awareness Week over a decade before. In generational parallels, Chief Point spoke about his time as a young law student who earnestly drummed and sang to encourage people to come hear the great Indigenous rights leader George Manuel speak at one of the first Indigenous Awareness Weeks at the university in the early 1970s. Four decades later, Stephen found himself in a similar situation when UBC Law had made a course on Aboriginal law mandatory and Indigenous students faced a backlash from some of the general student body who effectively boycotted certain events at Indigenous Awareness Week in 2013. Like Chief Point before him, Stephen walked through the halls encouraging people to hear Chief Point speak.

Moving forward to today, Mandell Pinder senior counsel Clarine Ostrove proudly presented Stephen to the audience. “Stephen is a thinker, an educator, and a stand-up human being.” Ostrove explained that he brings to every situation “his own unique blend of honesty, humility, and sensitivity.”

Stephen regularly donates his time to the UBC Indigenous Law Students’ Association. He also served as the Board Chair of Pivot Legal Society, a legal advocacy organization dedicated to challenging unjust legislation, policies, and practices that undermine human rights, intensify poverty, and perpetuate stigma. He speaks often at Indigenous legal events and guest lectures at the university, as well as offers peer support for Indigenous law students and coaches the Kawaskimhon Moot. Stephen doesn’t want any Indigenous student to feel alone or to feel that they have to conform to colonial legal systems on their educational path.

A Michif man living with his partner Audie and son Emile in oskana kâ-asastêki, Stephen’s life through law school was driven by questions that challenged current beliefs in Canada’s legal system:

I wanted to know it was reasonable for me to question everything I was learning. I wanted to know why everyone seemed to uncritically accept that Canada’s existence is premised on the inherent inferiority of Indigenous Peoples. I wanted to know why Indigenous Law, our laws and legal orders, were wholly ignored or just used as some interpretive aid for the law that actually mattered.

In his keynote speech Stephen also discusses the problematic legacy of the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in R v Powley, the responsibilities of Métis people, the interconnectedness of Indigenous Law and art, as well as the distinction between Indigenous Law and Aboriginal law.

See the full interview here.