Thunder Bay

Lakehead law school launching Indigenous law and justice institute

Lakehead University's Bora Laskin Faculty of Law will soon be home to a new Indigenous law and justice institute.

Institute will engage with Indigenous communities and organizations, create law camp

Lakehead University's Bora Laskin Faculty of Law is developing a new Indigenous Law and Justice Institute. (Bora Laskin Faculty of Law/Facebook)

Lakehead University's Bora Laskin Faculty of Law will soon be home to a new Indigenous law and justice institute.

The Maamawi Bimosewag - They Walk Together Institute will focus on engaging with Indigenous communities and organizations, developing curriculum and preparing law students to work with Indigenous people after they graduate.

The effort grew out of both the law school's mandate and the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said Jula Hughes, dean of the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law.

"They had one call to action, number 50, that talks about drawing on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to encourage the … federal government to collaborate with Aboriginal organisations and to fund the establishment of Indigenous law institutes," Hughes said. "This, then, was the jumping off point for an inclusion in the federal budget in 2019 for responding to this call to action and the federal government committed at the time to invest up to $10 million over five years in support of these Indigenous law initiatives through a program that called the Justice Partnership and Innovation Program."

That program is providing up to $437,000 to the institute, which will focus on three areas:

  • Build and sustain relationships with Indigenous organizations and communities to build capacity toward the revitalization of Anisninaabe and Metis law.
  • Focus on land-base learning, including the creation of a law camp that will engage community and faculty in Indigenous land law. The camp, the faculty said, will include Indigenous law revitalization, restatement, and codification methodologies, awareness of Indigenous political and service organizations and cultural competency training.
  • Research, including training students to interview Elders and knowledge keepers, investigating treaty history, conducting community workshops, and documenting Anishinaabe and Metis law and legal principles.

Hughes said originally, the hope was for the institute to be in full operational last year, but COVID-19 delayed things.

However, work is underway now, with law professor Nancy Sandy having been appointed as the institute's director. Consultation with Indigenous organizations will begin shortly, as well, Hughes said.

Hughes said the institute will be a benefit to law students, as they move on to their careers as lawyers.

"Indigenous legal orders are actually a persistent source of law in Canada," she said. "They're part of the Canadian legal system. And so, in order for lawyers to be competent to practice, they need to be conversant in Indigenous laws."

Hughes noted that students do take a mandatory course in Indigenous legal orders, but that's "one course out of many."

"We need to do more work with the students, so that that knowledge is appropriately developed and they develop those competencies," she said. "A component of that is also to ensure that students are culturally competent to practice law, serving Indigenous clients, interacting with Indigenous people who may be on the other side of a file, making sure that they understand the importance of community protocols and all of those kinds of aspects of things."

In addition, Hughes said, Indigenous law in Canada is increasingly being applied in a context of self-governance.

"So students also need to come away with competencies regarding everything from modern land claims to … these jurisdictional agreements, impact benefit agreements, in the context of resource extraction," she said.