Doctoral student wins coveted national award to research Nuu-chah-nulth legal framework


- Thomas Winterhoff

Johnny Mack, a PhD candidate in UVic's Graduate Program in Law and Society, is one of 14 doctoral students across Canada who has received a prestigious three-year scholarship from the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation.
This is the second year in a row and the fourth time in six years that a UVic student has received this honour. The $180,000 award will assist Mack in investigating how traditional socio-political and legal frameworks of the Nuu-chah-nulth people of Vancouver Island could be reformed to better reflect the realities and issues their communities face today.

"My research is providing a genealogical account of Nuu-chah-nulth constitutionalism," says Mack. "I am interested in identifying the laws relied upon by the Nuu-chah-nulth to create political community and hold it accountable to the land and people. The genealogy is intended to demonstrate that this form of constituting political community, while still living today, has changed drastically from its earlier forms."

Mack's academic supervisors are Professor John Borrows, the Law Foundation Professor of Aboriginal Justice and Governance at the Faculty of Law, and Professor James Tully, cross-appointed in the Faculty of Law, Department of Political Science, Faculty of Humanities, and Indigenous Governance.

"The work is cutting-edge because it draws Indigenous legal traditions into conversation with political theory," says Borrows. "This unique engagement enables Johnny to address questions related to the legitimacy of Canadian law and the challenges of revitalizing Indigenous democracy."

Mack says that one tremendous benefit of his award is the opportunity to network with other Trudeau Foundation scholars. Many of the recipients are social sciences and humanities students who examine issues related to the environment, international affairs, responsible citizenship, and human rights and dignity.

"The Foundation works hard to bring together policy makers, journalists and academics to facilitate dialogue between academic research and the worlds of social policy and activism," Mack explains. "These connections, I expect, will be very important to the development of this project."

Mack is Toquaht, of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council. He was raised on an Indian Reserve in Nuu-chah-nulth territory off the west coast of Vancouver Island. He earned a bachelor of laws degree and a master of laws degree from UVic. Pursuing his doctoral studies at the Faculty of Law has been both a rewarding and enriching experience.

"I thought seriously about going somewhere else for my doctoral studies," says Mack, "but there was no place in the world that could rival the support that UVic has for a project like mine."

Three other UVic students have previously been awarded Trudeau Scholarships (Dawnis Kennedy of UVic Law in 2006, Andr&e#180;e Boisselle of UVic Law in 2008 and Nathan Bennett of UVic geography in 2010). Three UVic Law professors have been named Trudeau Fellows (inaugural fellow James Tully in 2003, John Borrows in 2006 and Jeremy Webber in 2009).

Video: Johnny Mack speaks about his research


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