Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, announced that the University of Victoria (UVic) will receive $9.1 million for the construction of the national centre for Indigenous law from the federal government. This contribution is meant to support the revitalization of Indigenous legal systems and Canada’s first Canada’s first joint degree program in Canadian Common Law and Indigenous Legal Orders.
“It’s so exciting,” said Bennett during the announcement Tuesday morning. “It’s the beginning of really celebrating the importance of Indigenous law and legal orders for Canada.”
Bennett’s announcement, on behalf of Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, took place on the UVic campus. Several professors from the program joined her on stage.
Val Napoleon, Director of the Indigenous Law Research Unit and of the Canadian Common Law and Indigenous Legal Orders program and Law Foundation Professor of Aboriginal Justice and Governance said this is a time of thankfulness and reflection.
“Minister Bennett has been our greatest champion, and the recent federal contribution of $9.1 million to our national centre for Indigenous law is the exciting result. This commitment will enable us to build a strong, stable foundation from which to study, teach and learn Indigenous law as part of the great legal traditions of the world,” said Napoleon.
Amanda Vick, whose traditional Gitxsan name is Siimadam, also spoke about the new building. She called it a “home away from home” for her and her peers.
“Today, like everyday, is another great day to be Indigenous,” she said. “Today also marks the joint efforts of the university, the province and the federal governments to honour and stand up for Indigenous law in this country.”
Vick said she cried when she got her acceptance letter.
“There are no English words to describe how it feels to be a part of [the program],” said Vick, who completed her undergraduate degree in liberal studies.
She sees this program is a step towards reconciliation, decolonizing the institution and not having to justify Indigenous law to others.
She recalls looking back at her notes from this past year, her first in the program, and seeing a comment she’d written in the margin: “I still can’t believe I’m here.”
Vick is honoured to be in the first cohort to graduate from the Indigenous Law program and the program itself is the first in the world. She wants people to know that the students work hard – learning both Indigenous law and Canadian Common Law.
Students come from all over and are not all Indigenous. Vick said this is important because the work needs to be taken on by everyone.
“It shouldn’t only be on the shoulders of Indigenous students,” she said.
The new Indigenous Law building is currently unnamed and is in the process of being designed. It will be located next to the current law building, the Fraser building, where the current cohort of 26 students take their courses alongside all the other law students.