Ottawa

U of O Indigenous law students mark new era of self-government

At a student union meeting last week, the Indigenous Law Students Association presented a motion requesting the right to be recognized as a self-governing body rather than a club or association. It passed with overwhelming support. 

Motion to grant student association self-governance passed overwhelmingly

The Indigenous Law Student Government — which supports Indigenous law students at the University of Ottawa and organizes events on campus — can now govern themselves with the legal traditions and laws of Indigenous people. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The executive of a new Indigenous student government at the University of Ottawa is celebrating its recent recognition and is hoping to to set a precedent for other Canadian universities.

At a student union meeting Thursday night, the Indigenous Law Students Association presented a motion requesting the right to be recognized as a self-governing body rather than a club or association.

The motion passed with overwhelming support.

"I think I felt the healing at that very moment when the motion passed. We were feeling all the support of the community," said Jason Tremblay, the group's treasurer.

There are a number of reasons why it was important for the new Indigenous Law Student Government (ILSG) to be recognized as its own governing body, members of the executive told CBC News on Sunday.

We don't have to follow a Western point of view or a Western way of law or a colonized way of law.- Taryn Michele, ILSG vice-president

Tawny Allison, one of the co-presidents, said there are three branches of law in Canada: civil law, common law and Indigenous law. 

"So being able to be recognized as the third type of law that's able to be practiced in Canada was really big," she said. 

'Huge difference' for Indigenous students

ILSG vice-president Taryn Michele said the group — which supports Indigenous law students at the University of Ottawa and organizes events on campus — can now govern themselves with the legal traditions and laws of Indigenous people. 

"We don't have to follow a Western point of view or a Western way of law or a colonized way of law," she said. "We already have our own law and orders that were passed to us for generations and generations."

Michele said she hopes their accomplishment will allow other law students to also understand Indigenous laws and their importance.   

"I think the other students, law students will know ... more specifically about our laws, Indigenous laws, whether that be Haudenosaunee law, Cree law, Ojibway law, Algonquin law," she said. 

The new Indigenous student government will also hold meaning for Indigenous law students at the University of Ottawa for years to come, said co-president Chanel Carlson.

"It makes such a huge difference for Indigenous students coming in to be able to go to a law school now where there is a government that represents [them]," she said. 

The executive of the Indigenous Law Students Association at the University of Ottawa. The group passed a motion at a student union meeting on Thursday to become a self-governing entity. (Facebook/Indigenous Students Law Association)

Tremblay and Allison both said the ILSG's name will likely change and — as they are non-hierarchical — the positions they hold may not even exist in the future.

"Before, as an association, we needed to have a president, we needed to have a constitution that was written according to certain guidelines, a certain format and certain formalities," Tremblay said.  "And that was something that we that for a while we wanted to move away from." 

He added they'll likely write up something akin to a constitution, but it may not bear that exact name. 

In an email, Adam Dodek, dean of the faculty of law's common law section, said his office looked forward to "learning together and working together" with the ILSG.

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