Posted by Patrick Morris on May 02, 2018
Dean of Law Dr. Jeremy Webber explained the formation of the Juris Indigenous Doctorate Program at the University of Victoria Faculty of Law.
Jeremy Webber has been Dean of Law at UVic for the past five years. He was appointed a fellow of the Trudeau Foundation in 2009 and a Fellow if the Royal Society of Canada in 2016. From 2002 to 2014 he held theCanada Research Chair in Law and Society at UVic.Prior to coming to UVic he was Dean of Law at the University of Sydney (Australia) (1998-2002) and a Professor Law at McGill University (1987-1998).
Jeremy noted that not only was his grandfather a Rotarian (and a District Governor) but in addition he met his wife at a Rotary function.
UVic’s Faculty of Law is initiating a new four-year program, leading to a combined degree in the Common Law and traditional indigenous legal concepts. The faculty is in implementation to accept its first students in September 2018.
UVic has a history of leadership in Indigenous Law, including the participation of John Borrows (Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law), Val Napoleon (Law Foundation Chair in Aboriginal Justice and Governance) and Heather Raven (Associate Dean to 2015). The faculty also has a graduate program supporting advanced engagement with Indigenous Law: 25% of UVic Law graduate students are Indigenous. 11 of these students now teach in other law schools across Canada and internationally. In addition, 10% of UVic JD students are Indigenous and UVic Law delivered the Akitsiraq program which was a full JD taught to Inuit students in Iqaluit, 2001-2005. The faculty has also established an Indigenous Law Research Unit (as of 2012), originated in a Project with the Truth & Reconciliation Commission.
The Program is a Dual Degree program inspired by McGill’s Common Law/Civil Law program, entailing four years of study, with 24 students/year. It is an intensive, comparative examination of Indigenous Law and Canadian Common Law. There are two significant differences from McGill: there is a multiplicity of Indigenous traditions:  students should work with a sample of traditions; and teaching occurs in and with communities (field schools; community projects).
Students get familiarity with the institutions and processes of a sample of Indigenous legal traditions; knowledge of how to access Indigenous law, how to reason with it; and skills to build institutions that draw upon Indigenous legal traditions and can translate across Indigenous and non-Indigenous structures. In short, skills that are crucial for building Indigenous governance and creating viable institutions between cultures.
This project’s time has come in supporting Indigenous Governance: Self-government is here to stay; First Nations want that to be true self-determination, based on their principles and processes; All Canadians have an interest in Indigenous governance being legitimate and effective; Expertise is required to support these efforts. IN addition, the Duty to Consult and Accommodate leads to development of Proponents’ capacity to build consent and Indigenous Peoples’ capacity to respond. Jeremy noted that part of the call to Action of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission is that Indigenous Law is essential to the rebuilding of Indigenous communities and the achievement of true reconciliation, and Recommendation 50 specifically recommends establishing institutes of Indigenous Law.
The program is ambitious as it means UVic Law’s enrolment will expand by more than 25% and Communities’ participation will also require resourcing. Therefore we required significant support from the federal and provincial governments.
How will indigenous law develop? Jeremy noted that this is not a matter of going backward to what indigenous law might have looked like in the past but rather the inclusion of principles and concepts to inform the development of the legal landscape.
Recent news reports have highlighted the Kahnawake (Quebec/New York) interpretation of “blood” or inherited connection?
Jeremy noted that the many indigenous groups have different legal traditions. It is implicit that studies of indigenous law will not deal with all of these traditions but rather provide a groundwork for how these various traditions can be used or integrated in different situations.