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Share: John-Bradley Williams, ethnobotanist and storyteller from the Tsawout First Nation, leads a class at TIXEN (Cordova Spit) and builds a pit cook with law students as part of the new field course in the re-emergence of W̱SÁNEĆ law. Credit: Mike Morash/UVic The historic launch today of the world’s first law degree to combine the study of Indigenous and non-Indigenous law welcomed the first cohort of 26 students from across Canada and acknowledged the efforts to establish the far-reaching response to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The new law program at the University of Victoria will help Indigenous peoples and Canada build enduring political and legal relationships. It will be applicable to rebuilding economies, environmental management, child welfare, education, human rights, healthy communities and housing. Students will learn how to understand Indigenous legal orders, reason with them, build institutions based on those orders, and design institutions and procedures that work in concert with other levels of Canadian law.

“Our university has a longstanding commitment to reconciliation through our programs of education and research,” says UVic President Jamie Cassels. “While there is still much work to be done, today marks an important step forward. This is a significant day for Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities across the country and around the world and the graduates of this program will help lead the way towards our country’s future.”

Students of the four-year degree program will participate in mandatory field studies in diverse Indigenous communities across Canada and will graduate with professional degrees in both Canadian Common Law (Juris Doctor or JD) and Indigenous Legal Orders (Juris Indigenarum Doctor or JID.)

The Province of BC included $2.25 million over two years in BC Budget 2018 for the program and is committed to ongoing support.The funding is part of the provincial government’s commitment to work with Indigenous peoples to build true and lasting reconciliation, anchored by the commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“We have a lot of work to do to transform the colonial legacy present in the policies and practices in our shared legal system,” says Melanie Mark, Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Training. “The Indigenous Law Program at UVic is a remarkable first for Indigenous peoples, Canada and the world. It’s an amazing honour and privilege to be a part of history with the launch of the program. It really is reconciliation in action and answers the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action number 50 to fund Indigenous law institutes.”

First year JID student Brendan Noyes says he came to UVic from Winnipeg because he believes the program will transcend the differences between Canadian laws and Indigenous legal orders. “We have an enormous opportunity to move forward in the spirit of reconciliation and what better way to heal than to truly understand each other,” he says.

Senator Murray Sinclair, former judge and chief commissioner of the TRC, says the program establishes the conditions for effective action long into the future: “The leaders of these initiatives, Professors John Borrows and Val Napoleon, have been largely responsible for setting the agenda in understanding and engaging, with rigour and insight, Indigenous law. Their advice had a real impact on our deliberations within the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”

Borrows and Napoleon, two of Canada’s foremost legal scholars who have been developing the program for many years, lent a personal note to the proceedings, bestowing gifts hand-crafted by relatives to the program’s students and dignitaries.

Among those recognized at the event were representatives of the McConnell Foundation which made a gift of $500,000 to the program, and Vancity, which was the first and largest donor to date, […]

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