Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck:
Honourable senators, on September 25, the world’s first Indigenous law degree program was launched at the University of Victoria. I had the honour and pleasure of attending. Congratulations are due to Dr. John Borrows, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law, and Dr. Val Napoleon, Law Foundation Professor of Aboriginal Justice and Governance.
Students of UVIC’s Indigenous law degree program will earn degrees in Canadian common law and Indigenous legal orders. Over the next four years, these trailblazers will participate in field studies in Indigenous communities across the country and will take on issues facing many of those communities, such as child welfare, housing and environmental protection.
Senator McCallum and I met with the first cohort of students and participated in an experiential outdoor lesson. We also met with several graduate students. Complementing the new JD/JID program is the opening of a new Indigenous legal lodge, which program coordinators hope will act as a national forum for critical engagement, public education and learning. The design of the lodge is said to reflect and honour the long-standing relationship between the law school and local First Nations communities.
Professor Val Napoleon, the JD/JID director said:
Indigenous law is restoring the world’s lawscape — the way that people relate to each other, the land, and non-human life forms. UVic’s Indigenous Law Degree program will equip our students to build communities of Indigenous legal practice locally, nationally, and internationally, private to public, and beyond. This is the first law degree of its kind, and it’s already rebuilding Indigenous law to meet today’s challenges.
It should also be noted that the program was created in response to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Furthermore, the B.C. government has budgeted $2.25 million over two years to help support the UVIC program in accordance with the TRC’s Call to Action No. 50, which asks governments to fund Indigenous law institutes.
B.C.’s Minister of Advanced Education, Melanie Mark, stated at the ceremony:
We are resilient Indigenous people and our laws have never gone away.
Today is about affirming our place as Indigenous people in Canada . . . .
Colleagues, this Indigenous law program will gradually create change for the better for Indigenous people. Once again, I congratulate Professor Borrows and Professor Napoleon and offer best wishes to their students.