Indigenous legal orders

Professor Val Napoleon, director of the Indigenous Law Research Unit at the University of Victoria's Faculty of Law

The University of Victoria’s Faculty of Law will soon launch Canada’s first joint common law and Indigenous law program, as long as it secures final quality assurance approval from the provincial government.

Up to 25 students will begin the four-year program in September, which will combine a common law education with Aboriginal legal principles. Graduates are awarded degrees in both Canadian Common Law (Juris Doctor) and Indigenous Legal Orders (Juris Indigenarum Doctor).

“Indigenous law is the most vital and exciting legal work being done in the world right now,” Val Napoleon, director of the Indigenous Law Research Unit, said in a statement. “The University of Victoria’s Indigenous Law Degree program will equip our students to take up that work at every level – local to national, private to public, and beyond. This is the very first law degree of its kind, and it is going to be a vital part of rebuilding Indigenous law to meet today’s challenges.”

Law professors Napoleon and John Borrows have been developing the program for over a decade, taking inspiration from McGill University’s joint law program that teaches the common law of Canada and Quebec’s civil code concurrently. The University of Victoria Faculty of Law is already home to the country’s only Indigenous law research unit, and briefly ran an Iqaluit-based law school named Akitsiraq steeped in Inuit law.

“[Graduates] will benefit areas such as environmental protection, Indigenous governance, economic development, housing, child protection and education – areas where currently there is an acute lack of legal expertise to create institutions that are grounded in Indigenous peoples’ law and to build productive partnerships across the two legal systems,” explains the law school.

Despite having secured critical start-up funding in the 2018 provincial budget, the faculty is looking for an additional $18 million to construct an Indigenous Legal Lodge to house both the program and the Indigenous Law Research Unit.

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