UVic law students to study Canadian and Indigenous legal systems in new program

“It means that Indigenous peoples are recognized fully as peoples: lawful peoples who have governed themselves in the past and in the present," said a professor with the university's law school.

Program will look at Indigenous legal perspectives across Canada

Val Napoleon, a University of Victoria associate professor, says the new dual focus of the law program will help counter colonial ideas of Indigenous peoples as "lawless." (University of Victoria)

The University of Victoria says its law school will soon be unlike any other in the world.

The school announced this week that its law students will be the first in the world to intensively study both Indigenous and non-Indigenous law and graduate with two professional degrees: one in Canadian Common Law (Juris Doctor or "JD") and one in Indigenous Legal Orders (Juris Indigenarum Doctor or "JID").

"It's just such good news to have the recognition of Indigenous law as one of the laws in the land," said Val Napoleon, an associate professor specializing in Indigenous law.

"It means that Indigenous peoples are recognized fully as peoples: lawful peoples who have governed themselves in the past and in the present."

Napoleon, for instance, will teach both Gitxsan or Tsimshian property law along with mainstream Canadian property law.

She likens this approach to the way McGill University teaches both common law — the legal system English Canadian law is based on — and civil law — the legal basis for Quebec law — simultaneously.

Moving past colonial ideas

Napoleon told All Points West host Jason D'Souza that the program will be extremely relevant because thousands of cases are litigated each year involving disputes over Canadian law's treatment of Indigenous issues

Indigenous legal traditions are important for students to learn, she said, to build partnerships across cultures and work toward reconciliation.

And, she says, they will benefit Indigenous law students.

"Those students, once they graduate, can imagine practising Indigenous law along with Canadian law and drawing on the wisdom and the doctrine from both," she said.

"The colonial ideas about Indigenous peoples being lawless will be left behind as people are able to draw on their own legal histories and resources and understand their importance."

The first group of students in the program will begin their studies in September 2018.

With files from Sarah Towle and CBC Radio One's All Points West