Indigenous Legal Education: Osgoode Hall

Osgoode Hall Law School at York University in Toronto has an Intensive Program in Aboriginal Lands, Resources & Governments which has been running for over twenty years. The programme was developed to

effectively improve law students’ understanding of Aboriginal issues and their ability to serve First Nations effectively on their own terms.

The programme is a mix of classroom-based work and field placements. Each student in the programme completes a seven-week long field placement working with an organisation that focuses on Indigenous legal issues. This might be working with an Indigenous organisation, a law firm specializing in Indigenous issues, or a relevant government or public sector agency. These placements may be in Canada or abroad. Over the last year, students have undertaken placements with the following organizations:

  • Assembly of First Nations
  • Chiefs of Ontario
  • Keewaytinok Native Legal Services
  • Windigo Tribal Council
  • British Columbia Treaty Commission
  • Nunavut Department of Justice
  • Ontario Aboriginal Affairs Secretariat
  • Yukon Department of Justice
  • Cape York Land Council, Australia
  • First National Development Institute, Botswana
  • Inter-American Development Bank, Washington, D.C.
  • Maori Legal Service/Te Ratonga Ture Community Law Centre, New Zealand

The placements provide opportunities for a range of experiential learning and as with clinical programmes at other law schools, are intended to both help to meet an urgent need for legal services and also give the students practical experience and an insight into the legal issues faced by Indigenous communities. Students undertake preparatory work before their placements and then present seminars on their experiences after they have returned. This allows from critical reflection on Indigenous legal issues and also enables students to take a step back from their own particular placement and get to grips with some deeper questions as they engage with their classmates.

A more recent development at Osgoode Hall picks up on another strand of Indigenous legal education. In September 2014, the law school organised its first Anishinaabe Law Camp. In part modeled on the long-running Aboriginal Awareness Camp held at the University of Victoria, the Anishinaabe Law Camp aims to focus on Indigenous law, in particular to encourage engagement with Anishinaabe legal traditions. Organised in collaboration with the Chippewas of Nawash, the camp has been held on their community’s reserve land north of Toronto in each of the past two years and is quickly becoming an established part of the law school calendar. Osgoode Professor Andrée Boiselle and UVic Professor John Borrows and his daughter Lindsay (who are from this community) have been instrumental in establishing this camp and ensuring this further dimension of Indigenous legal education is part of the law school programme. For a nice summary of the kind of experience that this provides for law students, see this piece written by one of the attendees at this year’s camp.