Gabriella Bright: Celebrating the UVic Law Class of 2024

2024 grad Gabriella Bright never thought law school would be in her future, but that changed when UVic introduced the first ever JD/JID program.


Gabriella Bright’s post-secondary journey began in 2013, amidst the challenges of raising a newborn and two young children. She embarked on her educational path at Okanagan College, initially pursuing Human Service Work. Following her desire to help others, she found a practicum placement position at Round Lake Treatment Center as an addictions counselor and group facilitator. While working at the Indigenous treatment centre, whose mission statement focused on culture as healing, Bright began the Bachelor of Social Work program, with an Indigenous specialization through distance learning at UVic.

“When I was about three or four years old, my parents began fostering children in our home. Loving people and wanting to help people has always been my focus. But I would never have dreamed in a million years that path would be achieved through law school”

At the time she didn’t see a career in law as something where she would be able to pursue the advocacy work that she wanted. Growing up she had seen how children and parents had been impacted by the Ministry of Children and Families, and while working at the treatment centre, she saw the intergenerational impacts of colonization, including how current colonial social and political structures continue to impact people’s abilities to heal. However, an announcement about the opening of the world’s first joint degree program in Canadian Common Law (JD) and Indigenous Legal Orders (JID) would introduce Bright to an element of legal education that had not before been an option.

“I saw the announcement and I remember thinking: “Wait a minute, what? This exists in the world?”  It just completely shifted my perception of what a legal education could be,” remembers Bright.

Keen to apply after learning more about the program, Bright adjusted easily to the style of thinking and preparation needed to do well on her LSATs. Her natural attraction to the logic games of the test and her extensive experience in advocacy made Bright an ideal candidate and her application to UVic law was accepted.

Starting law school meant Bright was immersed in a new style of learning. Between learning a tremendous amount of material, and operationalizing newly learned principles through multiple fact patterns, she remembers it being a steep learning curve and being surprised by the lack of direct instructions.

“You’re asked to write answers in whatever way you think is best, and my first instinct was to ask how they wanted us to frame it, what structure they were looking for. But, we were always be told to do what we thought was best,” says Bright. “It was a new concept of what a university exam should look like, but if you think about advocacy and the legal field, this is a very positive direction. It’s like saying, what always has been done isn’t the way it always needs to be. We need new arguments; we need people that are looking at things from alternate perspectives and offering something new. Bring it.”

Starting at UVic law in 2020, COVID restrictions meant that certain options weren’t possible for Bright and her cohort, including the land-teaching portion of John Borrows’ constitutional law class. However, participating in two fields schools—a key component of the JD/JID program—allowed Bright to experience the kinds of teachings that can only come though relationship building in community.

“The field schools gave us the opportunity to take everything that we’ve understood and see how that works out in the community, and most of that is about relationality rather than common law legal principles,” she says. “In terms of legal advocacy, the way that you understand, interrelate with, and have taken in the teachings and spirit of the communities is really what informs the work.”


Following Convocation, Bright will be beginning a Federal Court Clerkship in September and is looking forward to making the trip to Ottawa soon with her sons.

Before law school, Bright saw the law more as an integral part of a colonial system than something that could advance advocacy. She remembers a turning point being the first exam she wrote for John Borrow’s constitutional law class, an argument about Indigenous historical burial sites and their legal recognition and protection. Students were to write a speech to parliament to address the jurisdictional issues between provincial and federal law regarding the rights of Indigenous people as they relate to the protection of Indigenous ancestral burial sites.

“This strikes to the heart and core of what it means to be Indigenous. Our Indigenous burial sites, our ancestral sacred sites, must not be disturbed or removed,” says Bright.

Bright points to the impacts of colonialism, like the 60s scoop, and the Indian Residential School system as structures that have caused irreparable harm to Indigenous communities by attacking the things most precious to Indigenous communities moving forward—the future generations. She emphasizes the importance of Indigenous law being recognized as valid without the requirement of passing through colonial legal views, ideas, and moral beliefs.

“It’s what I care the most about. My grandmother was in residential school at St Joseph’s Mission, and she didn’t speak about it. She said very little about our culture or history. From the teachings I've received from my Elders, my understanding is that I am in the middle of seven generations forward and seven generations behind. My obligations are not just to those here today, but to those who have come before me, who have fought and died for me to be where I am right now, and to those generations that are yet to come,” says Bright.

Now graduated, Bright will use her joint degree in Canadian Common Law (JD) and Indigenous Law (JID) to continue to advocate for Indigenous rights and collaborate with Indigenous communities to challenge oppressive laws and policies. For the last four summers, Bright has worked for Murphy Battista, LLP to bring her advocacy to Indigenous class action files, including individual cases where Indigenous children are injured while in care, or in circumstances where an apprehension was misused.

 “I think about what full recognition of Indigenous Law can achieve moving forward. In terms of the impacts of colonization, systems like the Ministry and their history of treatment towards Indigenous peoples, and hopefully how the recognition of Indigenous Law will impact their actions of reconciliation moving forward.”

Bright will be beginning a Federal Court Clerkship in September and is looking forward to making the trip to Ottawa soon with her sons.