First of its kind; UVic degree combines Indigenous, Canadian law

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) – In what’s being hailed as a first of its kind, a new degree program at the University of Victoria is attempting to bridge the gap between Canadian and Indigenous law.

The course will teach common and civil law from both a Canadian and Indigenous legal perspective so students will be able to work seamlessly between the two fields and graduate with both a Canadian Juris Doctor and Juris Indigenarum Doctor.

“All of what this means is that indigenous peoples will have the internal recognition of themselves as lawful, citizens and peoples in the fullest sense of the word,” said Val Napoleon, foundation chair in aboriginal justice and governance at the UVic Faculty of Law. “The idea being that every society has to have the full scope of a legal order and system through which people manage their collective lives.”

The program will start in fall 2018, but Napoleon and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law John Borrows began dreaming of the program 12 years ago. Working in partnership with Indigenous communities, law societies, court systems and government, the pair put together a curriculum.

“It’s taken a long time, but we no longer have to make the argument that indigenous people have law. People get that. The [Truth and Reconciliation Commission] confirmed that,” Napoleon said. “Indigenous peoples legal traditions have been undermined by colonization and we’re doing the rebuilding. The rebuilding has to be done because they’re not intact, ready to spring back to life.”

Like some of Canada’s unwritten constitution, most Indigenous law is based on oral histories and traditions, adding to the challenge of turning them into a cohesive program.

“People told these oral histories for thousands of years for a reason. They are a pedagogical tool and a way of recording law,” Napoleon said.

Funding for the new program was announced in the provincial government’s February budget.

Prospective students have kept the phone ringing, according to Napoleon, but she is surprised by the number of practicing lawyers who have contacted her asking if they can upgrade their credentials.

“People talk about reconciliation but unless indigenous law is included in that conversation substantively and in a meaningful way, then the conversations are founded on Canadian law and that’s not reconciliation,” she said. “There has to be a reconciliation between laws, between different ways we govern ourselves.

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