Indigenous Law Research Unit (ILRU)
It is not for the faint of heart, it is hard work. We need to create meaningful opportunities for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to critically engage in this work because all our futures depend on it.”
The existence and ongoing meaningful presence of living Indigenous legal traditions in Indigenous people’s lives and communities is a fundamental premise that underlies our work and research. At the heart of this approach is an abiding commitment to identifying, substantively articulating, and applying the intellectual resources from Indigenous legal orders.
Last updated March 15, 2016
The Indigenous Law Research Unit is proud to support West Coast Environmental Law’s RELAW initiative.
West Coast Environmental Law is seeking to work with Indigenous communities to articulate, revitalize, and engage with Indigenous laws as part of their RELAW (see below) initiative. For more information please visit their Community Call-out page or contact Maxine Matilpi at Maxine_Matilpi@wcel.org.
RELAW: Revitalizing Indigenous Law for Land, Air and Water - RELAW is a project of West Coast Environmental Law and the Indigenous Law Research Unit at the University of Victoria aimed at deepening community-based capacity to engage in the process of articulating, revitalizing and applying Indigenous law to contemporary environmental issues and proactive land and resource management.
Our vision is to honour the internal strengths and resiliencies present in Indigenous societies and in their legal traditions, and to identify legal principles that may be accessed and applied today – to governance, lands and waters, environment and resources, justice and safety, and building Indigenous economies.
What We Do
There are many ways to learn about Indigenous law and there are many forms of legal precedent: stories, oral histories, music, place names, art, dance, land, and human and kinship relations.
Whatever the approach to engaging with Indigenous law, we believe that it must be rigorous and critical, that the legal reasoning processes and interpretations must be transparent, and there must be broad community involvement, and spaces for critical and respectful debate.
In Canada there is increasing acknowledgment that Canada is a multi-juridical country. Various American Tribal Judges have called for practical and respectful ways to engage with Indigenous legal traditions in an ongoing way. Our work takes one approach toward drawing on and drawing out the rich intellectual traditions available to Indigenous people for reasoning through legal problems and the issues Indigenous communities are struggling with today. Find out more about our approach.
ILRU is directed by Val Napoleon, Law Foundation Professor of Aboriginal Justice and Governance. For more information about our current staff and researchers, click on ‘Our People’ in the box below.
Our current projects are divided into two streams:
These projects relate to harms, conflicts and governance. We are currently working with Indigenous communities on child welfare and family law, criminal law, and Indigenous courts.
Lands and Resources
These projects relate to land and resource management, including marine management, environmental stewardship, and water law.
The Indigenous Law Video On Demand project involved creating a website for ILRU, as well as a series of short educational videos, which are accompanied by a video archive. The video series provides critically oriented introductions to important topics in the area of Indigenous law. The main videos are:
- Indigenous law: an introduction;
- Indigenous law, gender, and sexuality;
- Indigenous law: tough questions.
As with all legal education, it takes time to learn about Indigenous legal orders, and what is presented here is intended to encourage discussion, rather than offer a simple, declarative account of Indigenous law.
The videos creatively weave together imagery, sound, and the reflections of scholars, community leaders, students, and activists working in the area of Indigenous law, and living in Coast and Straits Salish territories. The videos include, and were created by, Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in collaboration and conversation, with the hopes of fostering respectful discussion and education in the areas of Indigenous law, as well as Indigenous-settler relations.
The video series is based on interviews and discussions with: John Borrows (Anishinaabe), Kirsty Broadhead (Métis), Gillian Calder (settler, Scottish ancestry), Jeff Corntassel (Cherokee), Rebecca Johnson (settler), Johnny Mack (Nuu-chah-nulth), Adrienne Macmillan (Gitxsan and Scottish), Maxine Matilpi (Kwakiutl/Ma’amtigila), Val Napoleon (Cree), Brock Roe (Cree), Emily Snyder (settler), Anisa White (Cree-Métis), and Kwulasultun (Doug White) (Snuneymuxw).
This project was supported by a grant from the .CA Community Investment Program. The videos were created for the Indigenous Law Research Unit by Kamala Todd (Indigenous City Media, Director & Editor), Emily Snyder (Project Lead & Producer), and Renée McBeth (Associate Producer).
Using the Videos & Discussion Guide
The videos are available for free online for educators, facilitators, community groups, community organizations, and the general public.
The overall package of videos consists of the three main videos, which are between 5 to 10 minutes long each, as well as an archive comprised of nine longer videos of full interviews. The main videos offer focused discussion on particular topics and are easily useable in classrooms, group meetings, and gatherings. If you are interested in watching the full interviews and conversations, then check out the archive!
Each video is provided with a description and a list of keywords so that you can identify the topics covered. A discussion guide also accompanies the videos, and can be accessed for free here.
Indigenous law: an introduction
This video provides an introductory discussion about Indigenous law, including different interpretations about what the term means, and why it is important to understand legal pluralism and to learn about Indigenous laws. This work matters in both communities and in education, and matters to both Indigenous peoples and settlers. Indigenous legal traditions are vital resources and this video offers a critically oriented discussion that aims to support agency and self-determination within Indigenous communities, to encourage non-Indigenous people to consider their own actions and responsibilities, and to open up ideas for discussion and contemplation. People interviewed in this video include: Val Napoleon, Jeff Corntassel, John Borrows, Rebecca Johnson, Doug White, and Anisa White.
Keywords: defining Indigenous law; understanding the concept of “law”; drawing on Indigenous laws; inclusivity & law; relationship between Indigenous & Canadian law; stories.
Indigenous law, gender, and sexuality
This video focuses on the relationship between gender, sexuality, and Indigenous law. These topics are often under-discussed and the people interviewed here emphasize the importance of critically engaging with gender and sexuality for inclusive legal practice. Topics discussed include why gender and sexuality matter to Indigenous law, and what Indigenous feminisms bring to the conversation. The goal of this short video is to begin a conversation in which gender and sexuality are taken seriously, treated as complex and varied, and where stereotypes can be debunked and power dynamics are openly discussed. People interviewed in this video include: Val Napoleon, Maxine Matilpi, Jeff Corntassel, John Borrows, Emily Snyder, and Brock Roe.
Keywords: gender & sexuality; voice & inclusion; power dynamics; violence; stereotypes & generalizations; Indigenous feminism; stories.
Indigenous law: tough questions
This video features a group discussion that took place at the First Peoples House at the University of Victoria. Law is a process of engagement and interpretation, and involves asking questions. Participants in this video came together to collaboratively discuss challenging questions and issues pertaining to Indigenous law. They were asked to reflect on today’s challenges regarding revitalization, difficult questions, and what excites them about the revitalization of Indigenous laws. What you see in this video are just some of the questions that were raised (check out our archive for the full group conversation). There are many more questions that could be asked, and the purpose of this video is to provide one way into a conversation about tough questions. People in this video include: Brock Roe, Rebecca Johnson, Kirsty Broadhead, Val Napoleon, Johnny Mack, Gillian Calder, Adrienne Macmillan.
Keywords: difficult conversations; tough questions; fundamentalisms; critique; power; revitalization.
Full interview: John Borrows
This video is of the interview with Dr. John Borrows, Anishinaabe, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law, University of Victoria.
Keywords: defining Indigenous law; teaching about Indigenous law; relationship between Indigenous laws & Canadian laws; inclusion & engagement; gender and Indigenous law; generalizations, stereotypes; sources of law.
Full interview: Jeff Corntassel
This video is of the interview with Dr. Jeff Corntassel, Cherokee Nation, Director of Indigenous Governance, University of Victoria.
Keywords: defining Indigenous law; land-based practices; sustainability; resurgence; teaching Indigenous law, education; Indigenous & settler relations; gender & sexuality; Indigenous economies; colonialism & neoliberalism.
Full interview: Maxine Matilpi
This video is of the interview with Maxine Matilpi, who is Kwakiutl/Ma’amtigila, and is a university Instructor, Vancouver Island University.
Keywords: defining Indigenous law; violence against women & girls; essentialisms; teaching Indigenous law; gender & sexuality; feminisms; power.
Full interview: Val Napoleon & Rebecca Johnson (part 1)
This video is the first half of the interview that was done with Dr. Val Napoleon (Cree, Director of the Indigenous Law Research Unit, Faculty of Law, University of Victoria) and Dr. Rebecca Johnson (Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Victoria).
Keywords: defining Indigenous law; interpretation & law; challenging settler narratives of Indigenous law; law & stories; Indigenous law as living, practical resources; teaching Indigenous law; Indigenous & settler relations; reconciliation.
Full interview: Val Napoleon & Rebecca Johnson (part 2)
This video is the second half of the interview that was done with Dr. Val Napoleon (Cree, Director of the Indigenous Law Research Unit, Faculty of Law, University of Victoria) and Dr. Rebecca Johnson (Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Victoria).
Keywords: gender & sexuality; stereotypes, romanticisms, essentialisms, fundamentalisms; violence against Indigenous women & girls; Indigenous feminism; stories; Indigenous feminist tricksters; citizens as legal agents/actors; embodiment & law.
Full interview: Emily Snyder & Brock Roe
This video is of the interview that was done with Dr. Emily Snyder (settler, Researcher/Postdoctoral Fellow, UVic Faculty of Law) and Brock Roe (Bigstone Cree Nation, Associate at Woodward & Co. Lawyers LLP).
Keywords: Indigenous feminism; gender & sexuality; Indigenous feminism & lawyering; Indigenous law & Aboriginal law; legal education; stereotypes; power; inclusion & exclusion.
Full interview: Anisa White
This video is of the interview with Anisa White, who is Cree-Métis, and is a Gladue Writer and a lawyer.
Keywords: defining Indigenous law; Gladue reports & sentencing; restoration; Indigenous legal responses & obligations; Native Courtworkers; using Indigenous law in Canadian courts; restorative justice; empowerment through Indigenous law.
Full interview: Kwulasultun (Doug White)
This video is of the interview with Kwulasultun (Doug White), Snuneymuxw First Nation, and Director of the Centre for Pre-Confederation Treaties and Reconciliation, Vancouver Island University. Kwulasultun was the former Chief of the Snuneymuxw First Nation and is also a lawyer.
Keywords: defining Indigenous law; misconceptions about Indigenous law; role of Indigenous law in relation to Canadian law; reconciliation; Tsilhqot’in decision.
Full interview: group discussion
This video is of the full group discussion that took place at the Ceremonial Hall at the First Peoples House, University of Victoria. Participants in the discussion included: Brock Roe, Rebecca Johnson, Kirsty Broadhead, Val Napoleon, Johnny Mack, Gillian Calder, Adrienne Macmillan.
Keywords: application of Indigenous laws; challenges concerning the revitalization of Indigenous laws; fundamentalisms; critical legal education & pedagogy; law school; Indigenous & settler relations; gender; sexuality; power dynamics; encouraging difficult conversations, critique; tough questions; commodification, economics, capitalism; colonialism.
Lecture: John Borrows
This video is of a lecture done by Dr. John Borrows, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law, University of Victoria. The video was created for the 2015 Legal Process cohort in the Faculty of Law at the University of Victoria.
Keywords: sources of law; treaty relations; Indigenous & Canadian law; challenging stereotypes; revitalizing Indigenous law; the depth & complexities of Indigenous legal orders & traditions.
Dr. Val Napoleon
Law Foundation Chair of Aboriginal Justice and Governance
Faculty of Law, University of Victoria
Faculty of Law, University of Victoria
Jessica Asch, B.A. (Political Science), LL.B.
Lawyer and Research Director
Faculty of Law, University of Victoria
Simon Owen, LL.B., LL.M.
Lawyer and Senior Researcher
Faculty of Law, University of Victoria
In 2012, the University of Victoria’s Indigenous Law Research Unit, the Indigenous Bar Association, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada launched the “Accessing Justice and Reconciliation” Project. We are very grateful to our funders at the Law Foundation of Ontario.
The overall vision for this project was to honour the internal strengths and resiliencies present in Indigenous societies, including the resources within these societies’ own legal traditions. The goal of the AJR Project was to better recognize how Indigenous societies used their own legal traditions to successfully deal with harms and conflicts between and within groups and to identify and articulate legal principles that could be accessed and applied today to work toward healthy and strong futures for communities.
At the heart of the AJR Project was a fundamental commitment to engage with Indigenous laws seriously as laws.