Indigenous Law Research Unit (ILRU)

Teacher and People Raven art
Artwork by Dr. Val Napoleon

Our Vision:

The Indigenous Law Research Unit (ILRU) is a dedicated research unit at the University of Victoria’s Faculty of Law committed to the recovery and renaissance of Indigenous laws. We believe Indigenous laws need to be taken seriously as laws. We partner with and support work by Indigenous peoples and communities to ascertain and articulate their own legal principles and processes, in order to effectively respond to today’s complex challenges.

The ILRU team develops and employs innovative methods for engaging with the full scope of Indigenous laws, including:

  • Social (human to human, gender and equality, fairness, violence and vulnerability, and harms and injuries),
  • Economic (Indigenous law and economies),
  • Environmental (land, water, non-human life forms), and
  • Political (governance, institution-building, inter-community and inter-societal relations, legitimacy and accountability).

We believe Indigenous legal research must be conducted with the highest standards of rigor and transparency. We want to recover Indigenous laws’ capacity to be publically applied, critically evaluated, openly debated, and adapted or changed as needed. We provide education, training, and ongoing guidance to communities and professionals engaging with Indigenous laws. We develop world-class theoretical and substantive Indigenous legal educational materials and academic resources. We bring together Indigenous law practitioners and diverse thinkers to share challenges and solutions, identify critical issues and advance best practices in accessing, understanding, and applying Indigenous laws today.

Our goal is to create sites of respectful dialogue and collaboration in order to reinvigorate communities of Indigenous legal practice locally and globally. Our vision is for Indigenous laws to be living and in use on the ground, and to be researched, taught and theorized about just as other great legal traditions of the world are. Revitalizing Indigenous laws, legal institutions, and their legal processes is essential to re-building healthy Indigenous citizenries in self-governing, lawful communities. Creating more respectful and symmetrical relationships across legal traditions is a necessary part of building and maintaining robust reconciliation within and between peoples, now and for future generations.

Scope of Work:

The Indigenous Law Research Unit (ILRU) collaborates and supports two major streams of Indigenous laws research:

Lands, Waters and Resources Governance, Justice and Citizenship

Examples of past and current projects include:

  •   marine use management
  •   water laws
  •   resource stewardship
  •   sustainable development
  •   lands and boundary disputes

Examples of past and current projects include:

  •   constitution-building
  •   harms and conflicts
  •   criminal justice processes
  •   matrimonial property dispute resolution mechanisms
  •   child welfare
  •   navigating issues of gender, sexuality, and sexual equality

How we Work:

The ILRU can collaborate and support communities in different ways according to each communities’ own goals and resources and our current capacity. We do our best to support all interested communities in whatever way is most suitable and possible.

Short Term/Contract Research:  There may be discrete issues or specific, time-limited projects where it might be useful for communities or groups to partner with or contract an academic partner. These may be a targeted report, paper, resource or event developed for the community partner or contractor, that may be adapted, subject to community review, to produce academic resources and publications.

Long Term/Major Research Projects:  These are major collaborative projects that run over a year or more and require intensive time and resources. These research projects produce a substantial body of work that is returned to the community partner for their use and application, and can be adapted, subject to community review, to produce academic resources and publications.

Training and Support:  Communities in the beginning stages of decision-making around how to approach an issue or are confident they have enough capacity and support to run their own Indigenous laws projects, may still access the ILRU for training and support. We offer two-day workshops or one-week intensive training sessions on critical issues and methodology suitable for community participants and students of all educational backgrounds. The ILRU team can offer ongoing support to communities running their own projects through advice, trouble-shooting, and useful case examples of particular academic resources.

To download Vision and Scope click here.

For more information on any of these projects please click on the headings to open the PDF.

Current Projects

  • Kipimoojikewin ("the things we carry with us"): How Anishinaabe Law Upholds Local Governance (2018-2019)
  • Tsimshian Inter-nation Co-Operation and Dispute Resolution (2017-2018)
  • kwseltkten: Secwepemc Citizenship Law (2017-2018)
  • Water Laws: Lessons from Indigenous and Colonial Stewardship (2016-2019)
  • Indigenous Governance and Citizenship: Developing a Collaborative ILRU Methodology (2017-2018)
  • Indigenous Law in the Law School Curriculum
  • Tracking Change - The Role of Local and Traditional Knowledge in Watershed Governance
  • Revitalizing Law for Land, Air, and Water Project (2016-2018)


  • Rebuilding Indigenous Law workshop - July 2018 - Oslo, Norway
  • Methodology Workshop - November 2017 - Cowichan Tribes
  • Human Rights and Indigenous Legal Traditions - June 2017 - Canadian School Of Peacekeeping, Winnipeg, MB
  • Methodology Workshop - June 5 & 6, 2017 - University of Victoria
  • Summer Intensive Course - May 2017 - University of Victoria
  • Methodology Workshop - January 2017 - Tl'tinqox, Tsilhqot'in Territory
  • Methodology Workshop - July 2016 - Unviersity of Victoria
  • Summer Intensive Course - May 2016 - University of Victoria
  • Facilitator II Workshop - January 2016 - University of Victoria
  • Methodology Workshop - December 2015 - University of Ottawa
  • Methodology Workshop - May 2015 - University of Victoria
  • Methodology Workshop - February 2015 - Kamloops, BC
  • Methodology Workshop - 2014 - Funded by the Nature Conservatory of Canada
    • Mid-Coast First Nations Workshop - July 29-31 - Hakai
    • North Coast First Nations Workshop - November 25-27 - Prince Rupert, BC
  • Methodology Workshop - September 2011 - Fort St. John, BC

Completed Projects

  • North Coast Indigenous Land and Resources Research Project (2015-2017)
  • Legitimus Legal Pluralism Research Project (2013-2018)
  • Indigenous Laws for Resource Stewardship: A Gathering of Nations (2016)
  • Gender Toolkit Project (2015-2016)
  • Indigenous Law Videos on Demand (2014-2015)
  • Matrimonial Real Property On-Reserve Dispute Resolution Toolkit (2015)
  • Accessing Justice and Reconciliation Project (2012-2014)
  • Coast Salish Civil Procedure Report (2013)

Indigenous Law Resources

Project Publications and Resources

    • Secwepemc Lands and Resources Law Project
      For this project, ILRU collaborated with the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council on a yearlong process to articulate Secwepemc laws relating to land and resources. The Final Report contains the integrated analysis, a casebook and a glossary of Secwépemctsín terms used in the analysis.  The casebook contains all of the stories reviewed and briefed for the project and a thematic index organizing the main issued analyzed in the stories. The team also produced a clear language Secwepemc Lands and Resources Law Summary of the legal principles and processes.
    • Gender Inside Indigenous Law Toolkit and Casebook
      • This toolkit and casebook are designed to provide facilitators in post-secondary, youth and community teaching positions with some basic background, lessons and activities to generate helpful and challenging discussion on the topic of Indigenous law and critical issues around gender. Includes the skirt short video to generate discussion about gender, clothing and identity.
    • Mikomosis & the Wetiko (graphic novel), Teaching Guide and video
    • On-Reserve Real Property Matrimonial Toolkit
       A toolkit designed to inform communities and individuals about dispute resolution options, major issues and important questions to consider when developing matrimonial real property laws, including the relevance and applicability of Indigenous legal traditions. 
    • Accessing Justice and Reconciliation (AJR)
      • For this project, ILRU worked with seven different communities in six different legal traditions on articulating their legal principles and processes addressing the resolution of inter and intra community harms. Project documents include:
      • Final AJR report
      • Accessing Justice and Reconciliation (AJR) photo story
      • Cree Legal Summary
      • The AJR project also supported the development of Mikimosis and the Wetiko, a graphic novel and accompanying teaching guide that explore Cree and Canadian legal approaches to danger, harm, and wrongdoing through the lens of a fictionalized historical event. 

Community Resources

These short guides, intended to be used together, help communities identify legal resources and knowledge holders within their own traditions:

Getting started - Assessing strengths

Community assessment

Analytical Frameworks

ILRU has developed, and continues to adapt, frameworks as tools to help organize and clarify the articulations of legal principles and processes that emerge in specific community research projects.  The two major frameworks that ILRU uses are:

  • Environmental issues framework - used in research projects relating to questions of territory, resouces, and non-human relations.
  • Human and social issues framework - used in research projects relating to questions of harm, governance, citizenship, and other issues of importance within and between human communities

Academic Resources

Talks and public presentations by Val Napoleon

Recent news:

Media interviews:

Val Napoleon

Dr. Rebecca Johnson, Associate Director

Simon Owen, Senior Researcher

  • Sioux Bulletin:"Presentation on Indigenous law illustrates its complexity"

Veronica Martisius, Former ILRU Co-Op Student

  • Bannock, a Graphic Novel & Conversation: Re-framing Justice Using the Teachings from “Mikomosis and the Wetiko" ReconciliationSyllabus


Dr. Val Napoleon's Raven series greeting cards are available at the UVic Bookstore! All proceeds go towards supporting the unit's research initiatives.

Justice courthouse

Val Napoleon

Dr. Val Napoleon
Law Foundation Chair of Indigenous Justice and Governance
Faculty of Law, University of Victoria

Rebecca Johnson
Dr. Rebecca Johnson
Professor, Associate Director
Faculty of Law, University of Victoria (250-721-8187)

Jessica Asch profile photo

Jessica Asch, B.A. (Political Science), LL.B.
Lawyer and Research Director
Faculty of Law, University of Victoria

Simon Owen Profile Photo
Simon Owen, LL.B., LL.M.
Lawyer and Senior Researcher
Faculty of Law, University of Victoria

Lindsay Borrows

Lindsay Borrows, B.A (Native American Studies, Linguistics), J.D.
Lawyer and Staff Researcher
Faculty of Law, University of Victoria



Tara Williamson, B.S.W., J.D., M.A (Indigenous Governance) 
Staff Researcher
Faculty of Law, University of Victoria


Brooke Edmonds, B.A (Art History & Visual Studies)
Faculty of Law, University of Victoria

Phone: 250-721-8914


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We love questions and connections!

Please contact us if you would like to inquire about partnering with ILRU, hiring ILRU for a workshop or for any additional information. 

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