Backgrounder: UVic launches Indigenous law degree



“The launch of the Indigenous Law Degree program at the University of Victoria is a significant event in Canadian legal history, indeed in Canadian history, and you are to be congratulated.”

~The Right Honourable Paul Martin, 21st prime minister of Canada 

“I want to lead my First Nation as we move closer toward self-governance because we, as Indigenous people, need to take more action in our legal system before it’s too late.”

~JD/JID student Jolene Ashini, Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation, Newfoundland and Labrador 

“I have experienced first-hand the need for culturally appropriate and adequate legal resources.

I wish to become a tool to bridge the gap and improve communication between Indigenous peoples and the Canadian criminal justice system.”

~ JD/JID student Colby Lizotte, Fort Vermillion, member of the Métis Nation of Alberta 

“The road to reconciliation is widened with recognition, recovery and respect for Indigenous legal traditions. The McConnell Foundation is pleased to support the ground-breaking work of the UVic Indigenous Law program”

~Stephen Huddart, President and CEO, McConnell Foundation 

“Our seed funding of the pilot field course ‘The Re-emergence of W̱SÁNEĆ Law’ is helping us better understand how philanthropy fits into the conversation around truth and reconciliation. We hope the learnings from this pilot program will help with healing and reconciliation efforts across Canada. The Victoria Foundation is thrilled to participate in supporting the autonomy and aspirations of Indigenous communities.”

~Sandra Richardson, CEO, Victoria Foundation 

Program elements 

Important elements of the program, especially core first year subjects, are taught transsystemically—through intensive comparison in courses that deal with Canadian law and one or more Indigenous legal traditions. 

Upper-year courses, elective and compulsory, are drawn from the JD curriculum and newly-created specialized courses designed to complement the JD/JID. 

A crucial dimension of the program is its field schools. Students will devote one full term in each of their third and fourth years to study in Indigenous contexts. Students will, under close academic supervision, learn from community-based experts on a particular Indigenous people’s legal order, observe the ways in which Indigenous legal processes are being employed today, and work with the community on law-related projects. 

Graduates will be well-positioned for leadership positions in Indigenous governance, federal and provincial government agencies, law firms that work with Indigenous peoples and Indigenous lands, and business enterprises. Work will be applied to areas such as water law, governance, dispute resolution, child welfare, human rights, lands and resources. 

Building on UVic Law’s record of achievement 

The JD/JID degree program builds on UVic’s longstanding commitment to and international reputation in Indigenous law and legal education and will expand its extensive research contributions. 

UVic Law is a principal destination for graduate study in Indigenous law. More than 20 per cent of UVic Law’s graduate students are Indigenous; many non-Indigenous students focus on Indigenous law. 

UVic Law collaborates with law schools across the country to deliver Indigenous law programs. UVic Law faculty have assisted with delivering intensive programs on Indigenous law at McGill University, Osgoode Hall Law School, Dalhousie, and the Universities of Toronto, Alberta, Windsor and Western Ontario. 

UVic previously pioneered an innovative law program that was the first of its kind in Canada in partnership with the Akitsiraq Law School Society and Nunavut Arctic College. UVic law professors, law faculty members from other Canadian universities, lawyers and judges traveled to Nunavut to teach in the law program whose graduates were vital to fulfil the agreement on self-government between the federal and Nunavut governments which calls for the territorial government to build self-governance. 

Indigenous law research unit 

The Indigenous Law Research Unit (ILRU), led by Val Napoleon, is Canada’s leading research institute on the law of Indigenous peoples. It works to redefine Canadian law so that Indigenous legal traditions are re-established to take up equal footing along with common law. 

To date, the scope of work is focused around lands, waters and resources, governance, justice and citizenship. Examples of projects include marine use management, water laws, resource stewardship, sustainable development, lands and boundary disputes as well as constitution-building, harms and injuries, dispute resolution, child welfare, and navigating issues of gender, human rights, sexuality and sexual equality. View current collaborations here

More on Indigenous Law at UVic:

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In this story

Keywords: Indigenous, Indigenous law, National Centre for Indigenous Laws

People: John Borrows, Val Napoleon, Jamie Cassels

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