Windsor law students now required to take course on Indigenous law

Dean of law Christopher Waters says it's a first time the university is requiring first-year students to take the course along with their common law subjects, in an effort to further explore the legal traditions of Indigenous communities.

Course will teach Indigenous laws 'from the ground up'

Dean of Law, Christopher Waters with Elder Myrna Kicknosway. The University of Windsor's law school will require first year students to take a course in Indigenous law. (University of Windsor)

In September, first-year law students at the University of Windsor will have to complete a course in Indigenous legal traditions.

Dean of law Christopher Waters says it's the first time the university will require first-year students to take the course along with their common law subjects. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission said to law schools that they have to do a better job, said Waters.

"If we're going to have an true nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous people, we need to further explore what the legal traditions of our Indigenous communities are," he said.

Often law students in Canada study how the Canadian state treats Indigenous people, but this course will look at law on their own terms, based on their own traditions, Waters said.

"For some Indigenous people, Canadian law is considered to be the involuntary imposition of a state, to which there hasn't been consent to be governed by those laws," he said.

This is really an effort for Canadian law schools and the justice system that have done a poor job traditionally of properly accounting for and respecting Indigenous legal traditions, "and we want to do better as a law school," Waters said.

The University of Windsor is requiring first year law students to take a Indigenous law course, said Dean of Law, Christopher Waters. (University of WIndsor)

"We've got folks representing various Indigenous legal traditions in the province," Waters said. "Anishinaabe and we sit on the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe peoples, Haudenosaunee and Cree."

It's important to lawyers to have cultural competency when it comes to practicing law, he said. They will deal with the communities and they need to know how to serve their clients well.

Wide variety of educators

Multiple professors will teach the course, including Beverly Jacobs, a recent appointee to the Order of Canada, in part for her work on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and a former president of the Native Women's Association of Canada.

The list will also include Jeffery Hewitt, former president of the Indigenous Bar Association and general council to the Rama First Nation, Valarie Waboose, former general council of Walpole Island First Nation and Sylvia McAdam, one of the co-founders of the Idle No More movement.

"This is something that is equally important as your common law studies and learning about the civil law system," Waters said.

The school also has an elder-in-residence program, an Indigenous support worker at its clinics and an Indigenous legal studies coordinator in the faculty.


  • An earlier version of this story included a comment that referred to the mandatory course as a first of its kind for an Ontario university — it is not.
    Aug 24, 2018 4:03 PM ET