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UVic launches historic Indigenous law program

World’s first law degree to combine Indigenous, non-Indigenous law
Honourable Melanie Mark, Minister of Advanced Education, Skills & Training gives impassioned speech at the launch of the Indigenous law program at the University of Victoria. (Keri Coles/News Staff)

Students and leaders gather in the University of Victoria’s First Peoples House on Sept. 25 for the historic launch of a unique Indigenous law program – the world’s first to combine the study of Indigenous and non-Indigenous law to address the acute need for new legal expertise at a critical time in Canada’s history.

“This is a world-class, first-of-its-kind Indigenous law program. You are trailblazers,” said Honourable Melanie Mark, Minister of Advanced Education, Skills & Training, to the 26 students in the first cohort of the Indigenous law program. “This is an emotional day. Today is about affirming our place as Indigenous people in Canada, and around the world.”

Two leading Indigenous legal experts teaching at UVic — John Borrows, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law, and Val Napoleon, Law Foundation Chair in Aboriginal Justice and Governance — conceived the joint program. The students will graduate with two professional degrees, one in Canadian Common Law (JD) and one in Indigenous Legal Orders.

“This unprecedented program will have a transformational impact on communities in Canada and around the world,” said UVic President Jamie Cassels.

Graduates will benefit areas such as environmental protection, Indigenous governance, economic development, housing, child protection and education— areas where experts have previously identified an acute lack of legal expertise to create institutions grounded in Indigenous peoples’ law and build partnerships across both legal systems.

“I am very proud to call the Metis Nation of Albert my home and it is a major factor behind why I am here today,” said student Colby Lizotte of her motivation to join the program. “Like many Indigenous communities, we were, and continue to be, hit hard by colonization. We are not voiceless and we do not need to be spoken for. What we do need is to be heard.”

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“This work is personal and it’s inter-generational. From the past to the present to the future, we need this work to continue,” said Borrows.

The four year degree program includes classroom elements, field school, community connections, and consultation with Elders.

“Reconciliation means nothing without action. Congratulations to the University of Victoria for putting reconciliation on the map,” said Mark.

“We’ve been talking and dreaming about this day for so long that it almost doesn’t feel real, but here we are,” said Napoleon.

- with files from Wolf Depner

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John Borrows (right), Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law, and Val Napoleon, Law Foundation Chair in Aboriginal Justice and Governance, conceived the Indigenous law program. (Keri Coles/News Staff)