North’s only law school launches Indigenous law and justice institute

·4 min read

Editor's note: Story originally published April 6, 2021. Seventh paragraph quote from law school dean, Jule Hughes, was corrected to change the word 'secular' to 'settler'.

Thanks to the Justice Partnership and Innovation Program offered by Canada’s Department of Justice, Lakehead University’s Bora Laskin Faculty of Law will receive up to $437,139 to launch an Indigenous Law and Justice Institute, Maamawi Bimosewag – They Walk Together, and expand the law program.

Lakehead University’s Bora Laskin Faculty of Law is not only the singular law school in Northern Ontario, but was one of only two law schools (the other being University of British Columbia’s Peter A. Allard School of Law) that offered mandatory courses in Aboriginal law prior to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

Now, since the release of the TRC’s directives, many universities are responding and once again, so is the law school.

The creation of the Maamawi Bimosewag – They Walk Together Indigenous Law and Justice Institute is a response to Call to Action #50:

“In keeping with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, we call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal organizations, to fund the establishment of Indigenous law institutes for the development, use, and understanding of Indigenous laws and access to justice in accordance with the unique cultures of Aboriginal peoples in Canada.”

It is an important step on the path to reconciliation, and one that Bora Laskin Faculty of Law Dean Jula Hughes says is the basis for the Institute’s creation.

“The call to action really speaks to the fact that Canada is built on settler law, British and French,” said Hughes, “in a manner that didn't account for the existing legal orders before the Europeans came, but also not consistent with Indigenous lawmaking.”

“The failure to recognize it has resulted in, or has been a contributor to, the many injustices that Indigenous people have experienced.”

The heart of the Calls to Action, a path to reconciling the treatment of Indigenous people in Canada, is the heart that beats behind the school of law as well.

“The law school was founded with the support and partially on the instigation of Indigenous communities and organizations here in Thunder Bay and in Northwestern Ontario. That's been a big consideration from the beginning,” said Hughes.

“And those same organizations and communities that supported the law school in the first place, our partners at Anishinabek Nation, Fort William First Nation, Grand Council Treaty No. 3, the Métis Nation of Ontario, the Nishnawbe Aski Nation and the Chiefs of Ontario, are all in support of this new Institute.”

The Director of the Indigenous Law and Justice Institute, which launched on April 1, 2021, is Professor Nancy Sandy, with guidance from Hughes and the Anishinawbe Omaa Minowaywin, the law school’s Indigenous advisory council.

“The work at the institute going forward is going to be responsive to what communities and partners want us to do,” said Hughes. “We are very aware that the expertise is in the communities, not in the law school. We're learners in this process and we hope to be helpful partners, but the communities are the drivers. That's going to shape the future of the work of the Institute.”

The school’s location will also shape the curriculum.

According to a release announcing the Institute’s launch, “by offering legal education with a triple mandate in Aboriginal and Indigenous Law, Natural Resources and Environmental Law, and Sole/Small Town Practice with the Integrated Practice Curriculum (IPC), its curriculum provides students with a legal education that will prepare them to practice law in Northern Ontario and Canada while understanding the issues pertinent to the land and peoples of this region.”

Said Hughes, “The vision for the future, where we have vibrant, indigenous legal orders contributing to Canadian law, but also in forming how indigenous self-governance will look in the future. The Institute's work is to contribute to a better awareness of legal orders and allow students in law to become competent practitioners when it comes to indigenous laws, so that they can support the work of those indigenous communities, governments, and organizations.”

You can find more information about Lakehead University’s Bora Laskin Faculty of Law by visiting Lakehead’s website.

Jenny Lamothe is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter at Sudbury.com. She covers the Black, Indigenous, immigrant and Francophone communities.

Jenny Lamothe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sudbury.com