Sen. Murray Sinclair, former commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, here seen outside his Senate office on Parliament Hill in 2016, praises UVic’s introduction of a new law program that combines Indigenous and non-Indigenous law. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

New UVic program combines Indigenous and non-Indigenous law

A leading Aboriginal legal theorist praises a new program at the University of Victoria (UVic) that combines Indigenous and non-Indigenous law.

Senator Murray Sinclair, former commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said the world’s first Indigenous law degree is consistent with the findings of the commission. A new Indigenous Legal Lodge will house the joint program, whose students will graduate with two professional degrees, one in Canadian Common Law (JD) and one in Indigenous Legal Orders.

“They [the lodge and the degrees] are precisely what we had hoped would follow from the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” said Sinclair. “They promise to form the very best of legacies — a set of initiatives that reject and reverse the pattern of denigration and neglect identified in our report, and that establish the conditions for effective action long into the future.”

Graduates will benefit areas such as environmental protection, Indigenous governance, economic development, housing, child protection and education— areas where experts have previously identified an acute lack of legal expertise to create institutions grounded in Indigenous peoples’ law and build partnerships across both legal systems.

Jamie Cassels, UVic’s president, said the program builds on the long-standing relationship between the university and the First Peoples of Canada.

”The foundational work for this program has been underway for several years, building on Indigenous scholarship for which UVic is known internationally,” said Cassels.

Some of the funding for the project will come from the provincial government.

Two leading Indigenous legal experts teaching at UVic — John Borrows, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law, and Val Napoleon, Law Foundation Chair in Aboriginal Justice and Governance — conceived the program.

“Indigenous law is the most vital and exciting legal work being done in the world right now,” said Napoleon, director of UVic’s Indigenous Law Research Unit. “UVic’s Indigenous Law Degree program will equip our students to take up that work at every level – local to national, private to public, and beyond. This is the very first law degree of its kind, and it is going to be a vital part of rebuilding Indigenous law to meet today’s challenges.”

Borrows described the difference between common law and Indigenous law this way as follows.

“Indigenous law looks to nature and to the land to provide principles of law and order and ways of creating peace between peoples, whereas the common law looks to old cases in libraries to decide how to act in the future,” he said.

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