New law centre at UVic to become judicial ‘sanctuary’ for Indigenous laws, students

New law centre at UVic to become judicial 'sanctuary' for Indigenous laws, students
Province of BC
Melanie Mark, B.C.'s Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Training.

The Province of B.C. has announced a multi-million dollar investment towards building a new National Centre for Indigenous Laws at the University of Victoria.

The project will become an expansion of the current law school building located on campus.

The provincial government, along with the federal government and the Law Foundation of BC, will be contributing a total of $27.1 million towards funding the expansion, which will become home to the world’s first joint degree in Indigenous legal orders and Canadian common law. The first cohort of 26 dual-degree law students started their studies in fall 2018.

“When the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act passed unanimously in the B.C. legislature in 2019, we voted for systemic change,” said Melanie Mark, Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Training. “The new National Centre for Indigenous Laws will be a place where the rights of Indigenous peoples in Canada will be recognized and upheld.”

Mark said in a press release that the new space is being designed to allow for the “unique ways in which Indigenous laws have been and are being practised.” She adds that the centre will incorporate ceremony and oral traditions into a culturally relevant space.

“This is a historic step toward reconciliation and will be a positive legacy for social, economic and environmental justice,” Mark said.

The Province’s contribution to the project will total $13 million, while the federal government will invest $9.1 million and the Law Foundation of BC will put forward $5 million.

“Supporting the University of Victoria’s world-leading Indigenous law centre and programming is another example of how B.C. continues to advance reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in a meaningful way,” said Scott Fraser, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. “Education is key to reconciliation. Through this knowledge, we must come to understand the past and can work together to support healing to make a real difference in the lives of Indigenous families and everyone in B.C.”

The 2,440-square-metre addition to the Anne and Murray Fraser Building at the university will use Coast Salish designs, signage and public art, and reflect the law school’s long-standing relations with the Songhees and Esquimalt peoples in the Victoria area.

According to the BC government, new high-tech digital infrastructure will enable students to connect with their home communities and also enable sharing of legal traditions with one another.

The expansion will also enable UVic to host conferences, public workshops, research and partnerships for faculty, students and visitors.

On top of the standard lecture theatres, classrooms and offices, the provincial government says that the new centre will include spaces for meetings, ceremonies and gatherings as well as an Elders’ room.

“This physical structure represents a sanctuary where our laws, which enable us to be peoples, will be safe, and where both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students will learn about those laws, creating the foundation to a multijuridical Canada,” said Dr. Val Napoleon, director, Indigenous law program and Indigenous Law Research Unit, and Law Foundation chair, Indigenous Justice and Governance.

In 2019, B.C. was the first province or territory to pass legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Graham CoxGraham Cox

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