Grantee Spotlight – New Centre Will Help Transform Education in Indigenous Law

New Centre Will Help Transform Education in Indigenous Law


Tucked away at the University of Victoria Law School, the Indigenous Law Research Unit (ILRU) has built its reputation as the leading centre for Indigenous legal research and public legal education in Canada. In addition, the Faculty of Law launched the first of its kind JID/JD, otherwise known as the Indigenous law degree program, offering a dual degree in Canadian and Indigenous law. Both the ILRU and the Indigenous law degree program provide opportunities for research, and have attracted law students, scholars, and researchers from across the country and the world.

Now the program is poised to build on its status as a global centre for Indigenous legal scholarship. A founding grant of $5 million from the Law Foundation of BC, combined with funding from the provincial and federal governments, will support a dedicated building for the program to stand on its own: the National Centre for Indigenous Laws.

“It really feels like a dream come true,” said Dr. John Borrows, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law at the University of Victoria Law School. Borrows helped bring the dual degree program to life and has long envisioned a dedicated program for Indigenous law studies. “It gives me the feeling that this work will continue to live in the minds and hearts of others.”

Sitting across from the University of Victoria’s Law School, the National Centre for Indigenous Laws will house the dual degree program, as well as the Indigenous Law Research Unit (ILRU). It will serve as a space for legal scholars from across Canada and the world to convene, and will be a venue for public education.

The layout and design of the building will be informed by consultation with Indigenous community members and stakeholders, in order to meet the needs of local and visiting nations alike. Part of the design will honour the Big House, a traditional governance and community meeting space central to several West Coast Nations.

Dr. Val Napoleon, Law Foundation Chair of Indigenous Justice and Governance, and Director of the ILRU, envisions the space as a “reconceptualization” of the law school, where Indigenous people can feel that they belong and can come together to discuss and debate important issues.

Napoleon also hopes the new centre will provide space and resources to meet the “tremendous appetite” from those in the legal profession for education in Indigenous law. Understanding the legal traditions of the many Indigenous Nations across Canada has never been more essential for legal practitioners — especially after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to action for more education around Indigenous laws.

“A limited understanding of Indigenous law means you have a very limited understanding of the major issues that people are grappling with now,” said Napoleon.