Prestigious award for leading researcher in Indigenous law
Law professor takes students to reserves to study traditional law that's based on the natural world
Indigenous law is an increasingly relevant and important element of reconciliation, according to a leading researcher in the field.
Not only are traditional Indigenous laws seeing a resurgence in First Nation communities, integrating some of their elements into modern law could improve some Canadian legislation, said John Borrows, the Canadian research chair in Indigenous law at the University of Victoria.
"The Canadian law sees that there might be some wisdom in aspects of how children are treated in the laws of First Nations that could be adapted," Borrows told Robyn Burns, host of CBC's All Points West.
Borrows was named the 2017 Killam Prize winner in Social Sciences by the Canada Council for the Arts for his extensive research which dates back to the mid-1990s.
The CCA called Borrows a "global leader in Indigenous law" celebrating his work for shining a light on injustices and inequalities experienced by Indigenous peoples.
But Borrows says the first 15 years or so researching the issue were lonely as he worked to bridge the gap between what he saw happening in First Nations communities with what was being taught in law schools.
At the time, a revitalization of language and culture was resulting in communities rediscovering connections to traditional laws that were based on the natural world but there were few people bridging that resurgence with the scholarly or legal world, according to Borrows.
Lately, he said new students, legal professionals and even the courts are focused on what the Supreme Court of Canada calls 'inter-societal law.'
"Now it feels like I'm in the middle of something exciting," said Burrows.
Natural fit for reconciliation
Borrows has led field trips for his students, taking them to Indigenous communities to see what traditional law is based on first hand.
"I've been taking students from law schools to my own reserve and helping introduce them to the law that's sourced in the rocks and the water and the plants and the animals," said Borrows, who is Anishinaabe and Ojibway and a member of the Chippewa of the Nawash First Nation.
His approach seems to align with the calls to action put forward by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's in 2015.
Of those 94 calls to action, 23 are aimed specifically at the justice system in Canada, including one that calls upon law schools to require mandatory 'skills-based' Indigenous law courses.
The TRC recommends that those courses cover the history of Indigenous relationships with the Crown as well as training in intercultural issues, conflict resolution and anti-racism.
The University of Victoria has proposed a joint degree in Canadian Common Law and Indigenous Legal Orders, led by Borrows.
Borrows will be honoured at a ceremony at Rideau Hall on May 30th.
With files from CBC Radio One's All Points West