Law student earns $180,000 Trudeau prize

  • May. 18, 2011 2:00 p.m.

A University of Victoria PhD candidate was among 14 students to receive a $180,000-scholarship.

Earlier this week, the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation awarded the prize to Johnny Mack, currently investigating how to reform the traditional socio-political and legal framework of the Nuu-chah-nulth people on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Mack, who hails from Nuu-chah-nulth territory, is in UVic’s graduate program in law and society.

He was relieved and encouraged after hearing the news, one month after his interview with the foundation in Montreal.

In addition to the financial prize, Trudeau scholars – experts in environmental law, international affairs, responsible citizenship, or human rights and dignity issues – are matched with leaders in both academic and non-academic settings as mentors.

“What sets them apart from other scholarships is the fact they pour all of this effort into pairing scholars up with people who are working in policy circles and working in the grass roots, trying to make a difference in the country,” Mack said. “For us, as scholars, it’s hard to make those connections because (we’re) so involved in (our) research.”

The scholarship will allow Mack, also the father of a newborn, to continue his field work by covering living and travel expenses, including the cost of attending several Trudeau scholar events.

John Borrows, professor in the UVic faculty of law, lauded Mack’s understanding of Nuu-chah-nulth law and his ability to draw together ideas that, Borrows says, will change how law is practised in Canada.

“Johnny is a very humble and unassuming person,” he said. “But underlying his quiet demeanour lies a great passion for justice and fairness in the world, particularly as it relates to Indigenous peoples.”

Three other UVic students have previously been awarded Trudeau Scholarships (Dawnis Kennedy of UVic Law in 2006, Andrée 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, Borrows in 2006 and Jeremy Webber in 2009).

The foundation was established in 2001 as a living memorial to former Prime Minister Trudeau by his family, friends, and colleagues.

In 2002, the Government of Canada endowed the foundation with a donation of $125 million following a unanimous vote in the House of Commons.

nnorth@saanichnews.com