Arlene Dodge’s passion for supporting Indigenous communities comes from a keen awareness of, and closeness to, the negative impacts that lack of representation manifests.
Arlene is of Indigenous descent, holding ties to the Walpole Island First Nation/Bkejwanong
; and is the daughter of a brave woman who survived the Canadian Residential School system. Experiencing her mother’s ongoing struggles after her devastating experience in this system drove Arlene to join the legal field and become a strong leader striving to create change. Arlene now finds herself as First Nations In-House Counsel, serving her home community.
During her time in law school, Arlene found critical experience working in an Alternative Dispute Mediation Clinic, and these mediation sessions had a profound impact on Arlene. Learning from an exceptionally experienced and intelligent practitioner, Arlene decided her time and passion would be best used in the practice of Alternative Dispute Resolution.
From these roots, and in early in practice, Arlene found herself thinking “what more can I do? There must be more that I have yet to experience.”
After reflecting on where she was at and where she wanted to be, Arlene accepted the role of Project Manager with the Nishnawbe Aski Legal Services
in Thunder Bay. The creation of the clinic stemmed from the vision of an Elder in the northern community who advocated for Indigenous Legal Services to be handled by their own people. This vision’s main focus was creating a system based upon the Indigenous Legal Orders of the Anishinabek. From these Orders, the program for Talking Circles began as they have traditionally been used within communities to help resolve disagreements. The Talking Circles are utilized in both Family and Criminal matters as a means to empower families who have for generations lost children to the Canadian systems via Residential Schools and now, the Canadian Child Welfare systems. In these circles, the families and support systems of these children gather as a collective and provide alternative methods and solutions to maintain the child within the family and, more importantly, to maintain the ties to their community. As for the criminal matter, it is a means for an individual to right the wrong that has been done and to ensure that the person who has been wronged is put back into the position prior to the wrong.
Arlene worked for the Nishnawbe Aski Legal Clinic for quite some time before she returned to Windsor and began her legal career as a sole practitioner and ultimately accepted the position with her home community as their In-House Counsel. Ultimately, the role is designed to assist the community in creating their own Constitution together with their own Indigenous Legal Orders. The creation of roles like hers mark the start of a cultural shift for Indigenous peoples to reclaim self- governance, especially in the legal sector.
Arlene was later approached by Dr. Valarie Waboose
, who asked Arlene if she would be willing to assist with the teaching and sharing the Anishinaabe curriculum of the Indigenous Legal Orders (ILO) course at the University of Windsor’s Faculty of Law
. Once Arlene started teaching at the University, she was then asked to teach courses outside of ILO. This was the beginning of her teaching career and finding fulfillment in empowering new students entering the legal practice.
In the beginning of her career, Arlene questioned her work, not feeling completely satisfied.
Instead of letting her lack of satisfaction deter her, Arlene began a transformative path of helping other Indigenous people. Arlene is hopeful in the future by sharing with future lawyers the Anishinabek Indigenous Legal Orders by encouraging and teaching others to think of creative solutions to life’s problems. She finds fulfillment through processing disputes, addressing previous wrongs by creating new systems through Anishinaabe traditional means.
Arlene’s work can be heavy, and she prioritizes by maintaining a positive outlook by debriefing after experiencing emotional moments with colleagues and students alike. Arlene encourages everyone to talk about their difficult experiences instead of holding them in and therefore reducing further trauma. Being mindful in the present moment is the key to finding happiness and self-fulfillment.
Arlene hopes that in the near future, more communities will use Talking Circles as a form of Alternative Dispute Resolution. She has seen the transformation that Talking Circles have made on many lives and she hopes that they will help many more people meaningfully connect with not only themselves but with others, and to be able to address their trauma in a constructive and supportive manner. Empowerment is the key to a strong and healthy community.