2022 Law School Gold Medalist: Kelty McKerracher


By Ivan Watson

When Kelty McKerracher crossed the stage during her law school convocation ceremony in June, it was both a moment to celebrate with joy and one to reflect on with humility. It had been four intense years of an exciting new Indigenous law program that was the product of so much work and visioning long before we even started here,” she says. I have definitely come out of this experience with a strong sense of wanting to share what I have learned and to continue learning. I think there is this sense for those of us in the program that what we experienced unites us and that we share values of supporting Indigenous self-determination, legal revitalization and legal pluralism.

McKerracher is a member of the first graduating class from UVics world-leading joint degree program in Canadian Common Law and Indigenous Legal Orders (‘JD/JID’). She is also the 2022 recipient of the Law Society of British Columbias Gold Medal at UVic Law, presented to the student with the highest cumulative grade point average in either the JD or the JD/JID program.

"It was meaningful to receive on a lot of different levels,” she says. Its always wonderful to be acknowledged, but this feels like more than an individual achievement—it feels much more like a collective achievement for all of us in the JD/JID program. We supported each other walking a new, unknown path, and we learned so much from each other. I learned an incredible amount from my peers, and I know we’ll be there to support each other in the future.”

Before law school, McKerracher worked with the Downtown Eastside community of Vancouver as a harm reduction advocate and community-engaged artist. She mentored with theatre companies in Vancouver and Toronto, and founded the Illicit performance project which explored responses to the opioid overdose crisis.

Her commitment to social justice has long driven her career and educational choices, and when she learned that UVic law was on the cusp on launching a new Indigenous law program in 2018, the opportunity was a perfect alignment of deeply held personal values and meaningful professional goals.

I knew when I heard about this program that I needed to apply because it felt like something had been leading me towards this for many years, and then I was so thrilled and surprised when I was accepted to it,” she says, noting that through her work in the Downtown Eastside, both in harm reduction and the arts, she first started learning about Indigenous law and governance and also gained insights into the barriers that were preventing long-term, systemic change from happening. I really saw the structural forces at work that were undermining the efforts of urban Indigenous communities to stay alive, to literally save lives. I also started to see the amazing work that Indigenous peoples are doing to continue and rebuild their governance and relationship with their lands in the face of so much continuing violence, and to share with non-Indigenous people who they are so we can have a different relationship. I realized that I needed a different foundation for the kind of structural work that I wanted to do and the change that I wanted to be a part of. Thats what brought me to UVic Law.”

Previously, McKerracher had studied Human Ecology at UBC and she holds an MA in Expressive Arts Therapy with a Minor in Psychology from the European Graduate School in Switzerland.

In the JD/JID program, she embraced the innovative approach to learning and teaching that challenged assumptions and opened up new ways of thinking through on-the-land field schools.

The transystemic learning with the field schools was so profound,” she says. On the land together, learning directly from Indigenous peoples practicing their laws, we made so many connections that sparked different levels of understanding, that I think resulted in true learning — not just absorbing, not just surface level learning, but whole body, whole person learning, and that contributed to the intellectual understanding that made real the concepts we were learning in the classroom.”

In September, McKerracher will begin her clerkship at the B.C. Court of Appeal, poised to bring her formidable blend of top-notch legal skills, passion for Indigenous rights, and personal integrity to impact the legal landscape in the province and beyond. Over the long-term, she envisions a future where Indigenous law is accepted, valued and celebrated in Canada, redress and land restitution takes place as per the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the process of truth and reconciliation fundamentally reorients and reshapes the Canadian confederation towards equity and partnership. She notes that these changes require sustained self-reflection and action from all Canadians, given Canada’s history of genocide and attempt to eradicate Indigenous law.

“As Indigenous peoples have always been saying, there needs to be a wholesale shift in our relationship. This is not about trying to fit Indigenous legal orders inside the common law or inside the constitutional structure of Canada,” she says. Rather it is about the common law, the civil law and newcomer laws and peoples here finding their place within the existing fabric of Indigenous law that has been here forever. Thats a different way of conceptualising the constitution, and a different way of envisioning the place we call Canada, for example as a treaty confederacy—my mind has been expanded to so many exciting possibilities through this program.”

And throughout the course of her four years in the JD/JID program, she has certainly caught the attention of her peers and mentors.

"Kelty McKerracher is an exceptional scholar, engaged community leader and distinguished recipient of the Gold Medal award,” said Interim Dean of Law Val Napoleon in McKerrachers gold medal citation. In the years ahead, we will undoubtedly be hearing a lot more from, and about, this exceptionally talented individual.”

For more information about the JD/JID joint degree, please visit the program website


Ivan Watson
UVic Law Communications