June 29, 2020 National Conference of Federal Trial Judges

NCFTJ Chair's Column

WE ARE STILL HERE

By Hon. Leo I. Brisbois, Duluth, MN

Boozhoo Niijii; Gdinimikoon.  Hello, Friend; I greet you in a good way.

From previous Chair’s Columns in the JD Record, you know that my family and cultural heritage arising out of the Ojibwe/Anishinaabe American Indian community informs my view of the world and events, no less with the current COVID-19 pandemic.

In 1492, there were possibly upwards of 12 million indigenous people living throughout North America.  By 1891, as a result of the introduction of new diseases, the destruction of primary food sources, open warfare, forced relocation to barren lands, and institutionalized boarding school efforts to stamp out American Indian culture, the indigenous population in the United States had been reduced to less than 300,000.  However, the cultural and sovereign identity of more than 565 federally recognized and more than 70 state recognized Indian tribes has survived.  Today, census estimates report almost 5 million American Indians living in the United States.  American Indian communities and cultures have survived because communal life and organization, tradition, and values were not dependent upon any single person:  as one individual would fall, others were always there to step in and carry on the culture, the tradition, and do the work necessary to meet the ongoing needs of the community.  Ojibwe/Anishinaabe people can thus sometimes be heard to say “we are still here” ̶  giinawind goshkwaawaadabimin.

With the onset of the pandemic across the Nation, there is no person or organization that has not been impacted either directly by the coronavirus or by the many necessary state and national emergency measures put into place to help combat the spread of the disease.  The American Bar Association is not exempt from these impacts.

The ABA, the Judicial Division, and the National Conference of Federal Trial Judges have, each in their own way, been affected by the pandemic; it would be disingenuous to suggest otherwise.  Staff has been required to telework, Association related travel has been cancelled, traditional yearly entity meetings and conferences have been postponed or cancelled, the financial challenges of operating a large non-profit organization have been exacerbated, and for the first time, the Annual Meeting in August 2020, will be going to an all virtual platform.  Nonetheless, the staff and current volunteer leadership of the ABA and all of its sections, divisions, committees, and forums have stepped up in the face of the pandemic to develop interim ways to creatively continue to accomplish the service mission and achieve the goals of the ABA and its members notwithstanding the immediate challenges of the pandemic.  There have been fits and starts to be sure, and not all the interim ways of operating virtually are as effective and efficient as direct person-to-person collaboration, but the important work of the ABA does and will endure. 

The impact of the pandemic will be with us in varying ways for quite some time.  Yet, the important work of the ABA endures not solely because of the efforts of current leadership, but rather, because of the ongoing commitment and dedication of future volunteer leaders who are ready and able to step up and lean into the fray in order to continue to meet the ongoing challenges presented by these unprecedented, unsettled, and unsettling times.  Those future volunteer leaders will succeed because they have the greatest tool available to aid them:  the dedicated men and women of the general membership of the ABA.

American Indian culture and sovereign communities have persevered and survived for more than 500 years because there have always been community members ready and able to step in and carry on the fight.  So too, regardless of any difficulties or challenges presently faced or that might be faced in the future, will the organizational life and works of the ABA continue to persevere and serve our profession and the communities in which we all live and work.   The ABA, the JD, and the NCFTJ will endure.  Through their members at large, they will go on serving the legal profession and all of our neighbors.  The ABA members, past and future, can and will justifiably be able to say after facing any challenge, “we are still here” ̶  giinawind goshkwaawaadabimin.

This will be my last Chair’s Column in the JD Record as my term as NCFTJ Chair nears its end.  It has been an honor and a privilege to have been permitted to be of service.  Miigwech bizindawiyeg.  Thank you for listening to me.

Hon. Leo I. Brisbois

Hon. Leo I. Brisbois

2019-2020 NCFTJ Chair