Province Invests in National Centre for Indigenous Laws at UVic

Centre will play major role in recognizing and upholding the rights of Indigenous people in Canada.

UVic campus sign
The University of Victoria will soon house the National Centre for Indigenous Laws. Photo courtesy of UVic.

Victoria will become home to the National Centre for Indigenous Laws thanks to a $13 million dollar investment by the Province of BC. The Centre will be located at the University of Victoria.

The world’s first joint degree in Indigenous legal orders and Canadian common law (JD/JID), which launched at UVic in 2018, will be taught within its walls, and it will also house the Indigenous Law Research Unit.

A 2,440-square-metre addition to the Anne and Murray Fraser (Law) Building, it is designed to reflect and honour the law school’s location and long-standing relationship with the Songhees, Esquimalt and WSÁNEĆ peoples on whose territory the university resides.

The project will use Coast Salish designs, signage, public art and materials such as B.C. wood, cedar weaving and natural light.

“When the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act passed unanimously in the B.C. legislature in 2019, we voted for systemic change,” says Melanie Mark, Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Training. The Centre “is a historic step toward reconciliation and will be a positive legacy for social, economic and environmental justice. [It] is being designed to allow for the unique ways in which Indigenous laws have been and are being practised — incorporating ceremony and oral traditions — all within a culturally relevant space and expected to meet LEED Gold standards.”

Education is key for true reconciliation in Canada

New high-tech digital infrastructure within the Centre will enable students to connect with their home communities and also enable sharing of legal traditions with one another. The Centre will also play host to conferences, public workshops, research and partnerships for faculty, students and visitors. IT will include public lecture theatres, faculty and staff offices, classrooms, meeting space, an Elders’ room and spaces for gathering, ceremonies and sharing of histories and knowledge.

“The National Centre for Indigenous Laws will be home to the first Indigenous law program in the world to combine the intensive study of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous law, and will help Canada build a new nation-to-nation relationship based on the recognition – and renaissance – of Indigenous legal traditions,” said Jamie Cassels, president and vice-chancellor, UVic. “We are grateful to the provincial and federal governments that helped establish this unique Indigenous law program at UVic and to the Law Foundation of BC for its generous donations today.”

The $27.1-million project is being funded by the Province ($13 million), the federal government ($9.1 million) and the Law Foundation of BC ($5 million).

Dr. Val Napoleon, director, Indigenous law program and Indigenous Law Research Unit, and Law Foundation chair, Indigenous Justice and Governance says “this physical structure represents a sanctuary where our laws, which enable us to be peoples, will be safe, and where both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students will learn about those laws, creating the foundation to a multi-juridical Canada.”

Student says programs create excitement for a better tomorrow

For Laura Hoversland, a second-year student in Indigenous legal orders and Canadian common law, and member of the Teslin Tlingit Council, the Centre and her education represent possibility and optimism for her generation’s future.

“I always wanted to be a lawyer, but I never imagined, because of the impact of systemic trauma, that I could ever do that. My dad is Norwegian and my mom is Tlingit. When I was younger, I thought graduating high school was good enough, but my dad encouraged me to keep going.

It’s been a long journey from legal assistant to Aboriginal court worker to a senior justice analyst for an Indigenous non-profit (Council of Yukon First Nations) in Whitehorse, Yukon. Being in this program has not only changed my life, but will change the life of my seven-year-old daughter. I’m excited to see where it takes me.”

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