UVic Law to build a National Centre for Indigenous Laws


- Julie Sloan

(L-R) UVic President Jamie Cassels, Professor and Director of the Indigenous law program Val Napoleon and Honourable Minister Melanie Mark. Photo: UVic Photo Services

The Province of BC announced a $13 million contribution on Sept. 3 to support the building of a National Centre for Indigenous Laws (NCIL) at the University of Victoria. This funding is in addition to $5 million from the Law Foundation of British Columbia, announced the same day, and $9.1 million from the federal government, committed in 2019.

The National Centre for Indigenous Laws will be home to the first Indigenous law program in the world to combine the intensive study of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous law, and will help Canada build a new nation-to-nation relationship based on the recognition—and renaissance—of Indigenous legal traditions. We are grateful to the provincial and federal governments who helped establish this unique Indigenous law program at UVic, and to the Law Foundation of BC for their generous donation today.
Jamie Cassels, UVic President and Vice-chancellor

Expansion to meet the needs of a growing program

As the Indigenous law degree program (JD/JID) enters its third year, the growth in numbers of students and faculty—six of whom are Indigenous and teach primarily in the JD/JID program—speaks to both the success of the program and the need for more space. At full capacity, the four year, dual-degree program will house an additional 100 students, who join approximately 400 students in the JD and graduate programs.

The combined funding of $27.1 million dollars will be used to create a 2,440-square-metre (26,264-sq.-ft.) addition to the Anne and Murray Fraser (Law) Building—which will be designed to reflect and honour the law school’s location and long-standing relationship with the Songhees, Esquimalt and WSÁNEĆ peoples on whose territory the university resides. The project will use Coast Salish designs, signage, public art and materials such as BC wood, cedar weaving and natural light. The building is expected to be complete in 2023.

Map showing the planned expansion to the Anne and Murray Fraser (Law) Building. 

A hub for connection

New high-tech digital infrastructure will enable students to connect with their home communities and enable sharing of legal traditions with one another. It will also enable UVic to host conferences, public workshops, research, and partnerships for faculty, students and visitors. The new addition will include public lecture theatres, faculty and staff offices, classrooms, meeting space, an Elders’ room and spaces for gathering, ceremony and sharing of histories and knowledge.

This physical structure represents a sanctuary where our laws, which enable us to be peoples, will be safe, and where both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students will learn about those laws, creating the foundation to a multijuridical Canada.
Val Napoleon, director of the Indigenous law program and Indigenous Law Research Unit, and Law Foundation Chair of Indigenous Justice and Governance.
Laura Hoversland
Hoversland in Yukon, Alaska. Photo: Hoversland 

Laura Hoversland is a second-year JD/JID student and a member of the Teslin Tlingit Council (Yukon). “I always wanted to be a lawyer, but I never imagined, because of the impact of systemic trauma, that I could ever do that," explains Hoversland.

"My dad is Norwegian, and my mom is Tlingit. When I was younger, I thought graduating high school was good enough, but my dad encouraged me to keep going. It’s been a long journey from legal assistant to Aboriginal court worker to a senior justice analyst for an Indigenous non-profit (Council of Yukon First Nations) in Whitehorse, Yukon. Being in the Indigenous law program at the University of Victoria has not only changed my life but will change the life of my seven-year-old daughter. I’m excited to see where it takes me.”

With support from many sides

The realization of both the Indigenous law degree and the new building arrives thanks to years of dedication and hard work, and an enormous amount of support.

“The contributions we are to receive from the provincial government, the federal government and the Law Foundation of British Columbia towards the expansion of the Fraser building will provide us with a home for our Indigenous law program and the National Centre for Indigenous Laws,” says UVic Dean of Law Susan Breau. “It is truly a historic moment and as the dean of the faculty, I wish to convey our profound gratitude to all of these funders who will make the realisation of our vision possible.”

The Law Foundation of BC has been an unwavering supporter of the Faculty of Law's clinical programs for many years. Their gift of $5 million is the largest donation ever received by the Faculty of Law.

The Law Foundation of BC is proud to support the vital work at UVic Law to promote the recovery and resurgence of Indigenous legal orders across the continent. This new centre will cement the role of UVic scholars as global leaders partnering with Indigenous communities and peoples seeking to articulate and apply their laws to contemporary challenges. We are grateful to be able to play a role in changing the way our next generation of lawyers are able to interact with and understand Indigenous legal orders.
Josh Paterson, Executive Director of the Law Foundation of BC

The NCIL will be built in consultation with local and national communities. Over the next four months UVic will be launching the National Next Conversations—a national engagement initiative to raise awareness of the Indigenous Law Program and better understand other Indigenous Law initiatives taking place across the country, and to solicit feedback and input to inform the new National Centre for Indigenous Laws. 

Construction is set to begin in 2021.

$27.1 million funding announcement for the National Centre for Indigenous Laws at UVic on Sept. 3.


In this story

Keywords: Indigenous, Indigenous law, administrative, community, funding, award, philanthropy, partnership, National Centre for Indigenous Laws

People: Jamie Cassels, Val Napoleon, John Borrows, Laura Hoversland, Susan Breau, Josh Paterson

Publication: The Ring

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