First cohort from unique Indigenous law program set to graduate

·4 min read

It’s the first law degree of its kind in the world and this spring the University of Victoria will see 23 students graduate each with a degree in Indigenous law—Juris Indigenarum Doctor (JID) combined with a Juris Doctor (JD). The graduates will receive their diplomas in June at the Songhees Wellness Centre in Victoria.

“This is an historic moment, and I am honoured to recognize and congratulate the graduating students of the first JD/JID cohort,” said UVic president Kevin Hall.

The Joint Degree Program in Canadian Common Law and Indigenous Legal Orders compares and contrasts Common law with Indigenous law, taught formally in a law school setting and within Indigenous communities.

“They are equipped with unique knowledge, skills and experiences that will enable them to build bridges between multiple legal systems,” said Hall. “I look forward to seeing the impact they make on the legal landscape in Canada, and on our ability to move meaningfully and collaboratively towards resolution of the significant and ongoing problems caused by colonialism.”

The majority of graduates are Indigenous. The intention from the beginning was to have both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students in the program, said Val Napoleon, interim dean of law and co-founder of the program, who is also Law Foundation Chair of Indigenous Justice and Governance. “The idea was always to find ways of thinking and working with law that enabled people to think and reason across legal systems,” Napoleon said. “Law is one of the ways that people aspire to justice. So being able to think about justice across our different societies is really important.”

The program launched in 2018 and is taught in a way where core subjects are compared both trans-systemically or inter-societally, meaning looking at both Canadian and Indigenous legal traditions. Upper-year electives allow students to specialize in an area of interest.

A key component of the program helps students understand Indigenous contexts by attending courses in field schools during one full term in each of their third and fourth years. Students learn from community-based experts in Indigenous peoples’ legal orders. Students observe the ways in which Indigenous legal processes are employed currently, and they work with communities on law-related projects.

The joint law degree allows graduates to work in and understand diverse legal situations that have lacked Indigenous legal expertise in the past, including constitutionalism and Indigenous governance, criminal law, environmental protection, intellectual property rights, housing, family law and child protection, administrative law, as well as Indigenous legal perspectives on lands, business, and economies across Canada and around the world. The school has already been teaching its methodologies internationally in countries, including Norway and Australia.

For Napoleon, seeing years of a dream-in-the-making finally become reality is exciting.

“When you think about all of the ways that law is an essential part of Canada, all of the ways that law is implicitly and explicitly a part of everyone's lives in terms of how we create meaning but also how we understand problems, how we act on responsibilities, how we relate to our government and all of the different ways that law touches everyone’s lives, all of those reasons are why Indigenous law is important to Indigenous people,” said Napoleon.

The work to create a JID program began before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's final report was published in 2015. TRC call to action #50 is based on work the university was doing in creating Indigenous law resources in partnership with Indigenous communities.

“It was a wonderful situation to have the support of the TRC,'' Napoleon said. “They were real champions for us.”

On congratulating the graduating class, former TRC chief commissioner Murray Sinclair said “They are leading the change that we hoped for when we issued the TRC report. I encourage them to go out into the world and to be bold and creative with their unique legal skills and knowledge.”

UVic is also working to create a National Centre for Indigenous Laws, which will be a place to bring together Indigenous thinkers, scholars and others to take up critical questions of Indigenous law by hosting seminars, conferences and exchanges. Construction is set to begin later this spring.

For more information about this program go to Joint Degree Program in Canadian Common Law and Indigenous Legal Orders JD/JID - University of Victoria (uvic.ca)

Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.

By Rebecca Medel, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com, Windspeaker.com

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