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

  • Indigenous and Colonial Water Laws (2016-2019)
  • Legitimus Legal Pluralism Research Project (2013-2018)
  • North Coast Indigenous Marine Management and Governance Research Project (2015-2016)
  • RELAW Project (2016-2017)
  • Dispute Resolution Toolkit


  • Methodology Workshop - July 2016 - University of Victoria
  • Summer Intensive Course - May 2016 - University of Victoria
  • Facilitator II Workshop - January 2016 - University of Victoria
  • Methodology Workshop - May 2015 - University of Victoria
  • Methodology Workshop - February 2015 - Kamloops, BC
  • Methodology Workshop - December 2015 - University of Ottawa
  • 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

Past Projects

  • Gender Project (2015-2016)
  • Indigenous Laws for Resource Stewardship: A Gathering of Nations (2015)
  • 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
      • 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) and Teaching Guide
    • On-Reserve Real Property Matrimonial Toolkit
      A Toolkit designed to provide communities and individuals with basic information about dispute resolution options, major issues and important community, participants and governance questions to consider when developing matrimonial real property laws.
    • 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

Academic Resources

Talks and public presentations by Val Napoleon

Reconciliation:Wahkohtowin Conference
September 21 - 23, 2017
Organized by the Centre for Constitutional Studies & Faculties of Law and Native Studies, University of Alberta
Inspired by the insights of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, UNDRIP, and the treaty relationships that constitute Canada’s first constitutional law, our conference will focus on how to translate the spirit of reconciliation into constitutional text, practice, culture, and law. Is constitutional reconciliation the appropriate concept to pursue? If so, how might it be accomplished? We are particularly interested in the ways in which Indigenous laws and Indigenous constitutionalism can serve as models to chart a path forward, or provide a re-imagining of constitutional relationships within Canada.
 Conference Registration is now open

Reconciliation: Wahkotowin Conference - Call for Papers
University of Alberta and Centre for Constitutional Studies
September 21-23, 2017

Media interviews:

Val Napoleon

Simon Owen, Senior Researcher

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

Spencer Greening

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

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Val Napoleon

Dr. Val Napoleon
Law Foundation Chair of Aboriginal 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)

Yvette Sellars B.A. (Women's Studies), MSW (Master of Social Work)
ILRU Coordinator
Faculty of Law, University of Victoria

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

Phone: 250-721-8914


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