Indigenous Legal Education: UBC

This is the second in a series of posts that address interesting or innovative Indigenous legal education programmes at a number of law schools in North America. This post focuses on the Indigenous Legal Studies Program at Peter A. Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

As with the programme at UVic, the programme at UBC has various strands which each contribute important aspects to the curriculum. UBC offers students the opportunity to participate in clinical practice, an Indigenous Awareness Camp, and take a range of courses focused on Indigenous legal issues, with the option of completing a specialisation in Aboriginal Law. This is also supported by research undertaken by the Centre for International Indigenous Legal Studies and the programme’s participation in the national Aboriginal Rights moot each year.

Formal clinical programmes are a more common part of legal education in North American than in New Zealand. Clinical programmes were a key component of Indigenous legal education at a number of the institutions that I visited. UBC operates the Indigenous Community Legal Clinic in downtown Vancouver. Essentially, the Clinic acts as a community law centre, with a particular focus on meeting the legal needs of First Nations people. The Clinic has both legal and academic directors, both of whom are experienced lawyers. These directors supervise the legal work undertaken by students and develop an academic programme around the students’ practical experiences. The Clinic then has two central purposes:

first, to provide free legal services to the Indigenous community in the Downtown Eastside, and second, to provide legal education to law students in the Allard School of Law. By joining the ICLC, students interested in advocacy, social justice and Aboriginal peoples can gain practical experience and make a meaningful contribution to a historically underserved and marginalized community. Working at the ICLC will give students practical hands-on experience managing client files and making court appearances.

As well as developing practical legal skills, this kind of experiential learning also exposes law students to the situation of Indigenous communities and helps them to see what the particular legal needs are of those communities and also begin to understand the aspirations of those communities and the way they operate. This is also one of the central objectives of the Indigenous Awareness Camp. The Camp is a relatively new development at UBC, the first one being held just last year. UVic has run a similar camp for 20 years now, but the adoption of the camp by UBC (and other schools such as Osgoode Hall, which I will touch on in a future post) illustrates an increasing recognition of the value of such camps as part of the law school experience.

The range of courses at UBC that focus on Indigenous legal issues is impressive and has enabled them to develop the specialisation in Aboriginal Law. To qualify for the specialisation, students must complete papers on Constitutional Law (Aboriginal and Treaty Rights) and Aboriginal Peoples and Canadian Law as well as a certain number of credits from other specified courses including Aboriginal Self Government, Aboriginal People and the Administration of Justice, First Nations and Economic Development, Indigenous Peoples in Comparative and International Law, the Aboriginal Rights Moot or the Indigenous Community Legal Clinic. These courses are supported by an impressive faculty that includes Gordon Christie, Darlene Johnston, Johnny Mack, Alex Wolf and Patricia Barkaskas at the Community Clinic, and Dana-Lyn Mackenzie as Associate Director of the Indigenous Legal Studies Program.

I was also interested in how UBC also clearly think that it is important to think carefully about the physical environment of the law school in terms of Indigenous issues.

UBC has picked up on some of the things that UVic has been doing but also has developed its own initiatives in this area. But, again, what was notable was the mix of clinical/experiential and classroom learning and the engagement with Indigenous communities that is built into the programme.