Indigenous Legal Education: UVic

Over the last month, I’ve had the opportunity to visit a number of universities in Canada and the USA that are doing interesting and innovative things in the field of Indigenous legal education. I thought that I would share a little about some of the programmes and initiatives that these institutions are running.

The first institution that I visited was the University of Victoria in British Columbia. Sometime ago, I wrote a post about the Bachelor of Indigenous Laws programme that UVic is developing. Now styled as a JID, to reflect the North American juris doctor (JD) law degree, the programme is still in development. Important progress is, however, being made.

An Indigenous Law Research Unit has been established. The vision of this research unit is described as follows:

Our vision is to honour the internal strengths and resiliencies present in Indigenous societies and in their legal traditions, and to identify legal principles that may be accessed and applied today – to governance, lands and waters, environment and resources, justice and safety, and building Indigenous economies.

Led by Val Napoleon, the Indigenous Law Research Unit (ILRU) engages with Indigenous communities to assist those communities to use their own laws and processes to address issues faced by those communities. At the same time, this work provides an important foundation for the developing JID programme. Research assistants that work with the Indigenous Law Research Unit undertake coursework which provides training on working with Indigenous legal traditions and it is intended that this coursework will eventually form part of the JID. It is also envisaged that the JID will have a significant experiential or clinical component and that students in the JID might have formal placements working with Indigenous communities. The work the the Indigenous Law Research Unit is currently undertaking is also helping to establish and strengthen the law school’s relationships with Indigenous communities and refining an approach to this work which is supportive of Indigenous communities and also allows law students to gain vital experience. And the substantive content of this work – the identification and articulation of Indigenous laws, legal principles and processes – is also helping to build a curriculum for the JID programme.

To support this work and encourage critical thinking and discussion about Indigenous law, the Indigenous Law Research Unit has also produced a series of videos on the topic (available on the ILRU website and definitely worth a look if you haven’t seen them). The videos feature leading Indigenous scholars, including Val Napoleon, John Borrows, Jeff Corntassel, and Johnny Mack. The ILRU has also produced a discussion guide to accompany the videos and draw out key ideas and perspectives on these issues. This also builds on work that the ILRU did in conjunction with the Indigenous Bar Association on the Accessing Justice and Reconciliation Project, which, amongst other things, produced a number of educational resources, including a graphic narrative and teaching guide.

In short, there is a range of great stuff being done in this area by the folks at UVic. This work include scholarly research, development of classroom teaching, experiential learning, working with Indigenous communities, and production of public education resources. And these various strands reinforce each other and support what is potentially quite a transformative approach to Indigenous legal education.