The inaugural class from the world’s first Indigenous law program is getting set to walk across the stage and receive their degrees at the University of Victoria this spring.
The first-of-its-kind program launched at UVic four years ago, combining the study of Indigenous and non-Indigenous laws into a unique, groundbreaking program.
UVic’s joint program in Canadian common law (Juris Doctor, or JD) and Indigenous legal orders (Juris Indigenarum Doctor, or JID) equips students with the knowledge that allows them to draw from, engage with, and work across multiple legal systems.
The inaugural class, preparing to graduate this spring, will leave the program with both professional degrees (JD/JID).
“Indigenous law is an essential part of Indigenous peoples being peoples and it is foundational to Canada’s multi-juridical system,” says Val Napoleon, interim dean of law, co-founder of the program, and Law Foundation Chair of Indigenous Justice and Governance at UVic.
The first class contained 23 students, who will celebrate the end of their four-year program at a special recognition event on April 9. They will formally receive their degrees during UVic convocation ceremonies in June.
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“Congratulations to the graduating students in this unique program,” says the Honorable Murray Sinclair, former senator, judge and Chief Commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. “They are leading the change that we hoped for when we issued the TRC Report. I encourage them to go out into the world and to be bold and creative with their unique legal skills and knowledge.”
The University says that this unique program has prepared graduates to work within and influence areas of law such as constitutionalism and Indigenous governance, criminal law, environmental protection, intellectual property housing, family law and child protection, administrative law, as well as lands, business, and economies — areas where there is currently an acute lack of legal expertise to create institutions that are grounded in Indigenous peoples’ laws — and to form productive partnerships across the multiple legal systems.
“When I first realized the unique way that I was going to learn the law, I felt both excited for the journey and humbled by the responsibility gifted to me,” says Amanda Vick, from the Gitxsan Nation, and a member of the JD/JID’s first graduating class. “We need more people in the legal sphere who are able to appreciate and utilize the knowledge of different legal orders in their practise.”
UVic president Kevin Hall is calling the graduation of this inaugural class “a historic moment,” suggesting these students have the tools to build bridges between multiple legal systems and impact Canada’s legal landscape.
Funding for the program has been provided by the BC Government, the federal government, and a number of corporate, foundation and private donors.
UVic is also going to be the future home of the National Centre for Indigenous Laws with construction set to begin adjacent to the law faculty’s Fraser Building later this spring.