The oldest law school in the country is changing with the times. The University of Sydney Law School has appointed Teela Reid, a Senior Solicitor in Land Rights and Native Title law at Chalk & Behrendt, co-organiser of Rebellious Lawyers Australia and a key advocate for the Uluru Statement from the Heart, as its first Indigenous Practitioner-in-Residence.
Indigenous Practitioner-in-Residence co-sponsor Professor Simon Bronitt, Dean, Sydney Law School, said: “It is wonderful to have Ms Reid join us in this new position. I am sure she will educate and inspire students and the wider University community.”
Ms Reid, a Wiradjuri and Wailwan woman, is part of a new generation of lawyers calling for radical change to the profession and society. In her year working part time with the Law School, she hopes to challenge students and staff to consider the ongoing impacts of colonial laws on First Nations and the importance of dismantling systemic racism in our society.
She also aims to highlight how, despite colonisation, First Nations laws survive through oral stories, art, and ceremony. “One of my objectives is to emphasise the duality of legal systems in place on this continent; the co-existence of Western law and First Law is very real. We will be a much richer society if we are able to understand and value the continuation of our ancient laws first, because they have endured the test of time within our own cultural authorities.”
One project she will pursue is a new podcast, ‘Blak Letter Law’, where she will interview Indigenous Elders and others about their oral stories and their histories of advocacy for their people. The first episode will involve a discussion about First Laws, along with Indigenous University of Sydney Juris Doctor student, Marlikka Perdesriat. She will offer the podcast as an educational resource for students – but not in a formal, enforced way. “There needs to be more creativity in law. I want to test the boundaries of legal education in Australia,” she said.
On a similarly unconventional note, Ms Reid plans to enable students to pursue an experiential learning project, which will allow them to engage with First Nations communities, first-hand. The idea is to provide an on-country experience to learn about the history of First Nations activism and advocacy. “For example, the Uluru Statement from the Heart is not the first legal document to call for systemic change in Australia for First Nations peoples,” she said. “I think it is important to understand how laws have been weaponised against First Nations, and the significance of political and legal advocacy that many First Nations pursued to change the course of history, an example of which is the 1967 Referendum.”
A final project will be based on the concept of ‘Rebellious Lawyering’. Ms Reid was on the organising committee of Australia’s first Rebellious Lawyers conference this year, where matters such as the Black Lives Matter movement, prison abolition and climate justice were discussed. “Rebellious Lawyering is practicing law through the lens of three things: lawyering, storytelling and activism,” she said. “When lawyers combine these skills, powerful things can happen. I think the idea that lawyers must be impartial and apolitical is outdated – everything is political, especially when you’re a Blackfella. My ultimate obligation will always be to my community and my Ancestors before me.”