In keeping with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, we call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal organizations, to fund the establishment of Indigenous law institutes for the development, use, and understanding of Indigenous laws and access to justice in accordance with the unique cultures of Aboriginal peoples in Canada.

Indigenous Watchdog Status Update

Current StatusJan. 10, 2022IN PROGRESS
Previous StatusDec. 5, 2021IN PROGRESS

Why “In Progress”?

May 17, 2021: Department of Justice announced the Government of Canada’s support for 21 projects that respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Call to Action 50. The Department is providing funding for a total of $9.5 million for 21 projects through its Justice Partnership and Innovation Program. This funding will help First Nations, Inuit, and Métis to respond effectively to the changing conditions affecting Canadian justice policy by supporting the revitalization of Indigenous law in all regions of Canada. (See below for project details)

Sept. 3, 2020 – A $13-million investment by the Province will enable the University of Victoria (UVic) to build its much-anticipated National Centre for Indigenous Laws

The federal government announced in Budget 2019 (March 20, 2019), $9.1 million over 3 years for a national centre of excellence for the study and understanding of Indigenous laws that will house the world’s first joint degree in Indigenous legal orders and Canadian common law JD/JID). Starting in 2019/20, the funds will support the construction of “an Indigenous Legal Lodge at the University of Victoria. 

Sept. 5, 2019 – Budget 2019 also invests $10M over 5 years for Indigenous law initiatives through The Justice Partnership and Innovation Program to improve equality for Indigenous peoples in Canada’s legal system


Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University

Feb. 18, 2021 – The Schulich School of Law introduced the JD Certificate in Aboriginal and Indigenous Law last fall. Naiomi Metallic an assistant professor in the Schulich School and the Chancellor’s Chair in Aboriginal Law and Policy, says that achieving a mutually respectful relationship between Indigenous peoples and Canada, and equitable sharing of jurisdiction, land and resources are key challenges facing our country. “The law plays a fundamental role in these dynamics and can serve both as a tool for oppression as well as a tool for positive change,” says Metallic. “At this point in our nation’s history, future lawyers must understand as well as know their roles and responsibilities in addressing these challenges.”

At Schulich Law, Aboriginal and Indigenous law is an integral part of the curriculum.

Since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) released their historic Calls to Action in 2015, the Faculty has continued to find new ways to incorporate the study of Aboriginal and Indigenous Law into students’ legal education. All first-year students are required to take the Aboriginal & Indigenous Law in Context course, which includes academic and experiential activities aimed at giving students foundational knowledge on Indigenous peoples and the key legal issues they face, such as participating in the blanket exercise and making group presentations. Third-year students are given the opportunity to participate in the Kawaskimhon Aboriginal Rights Moot.

Directed research and major paper courses also give students the chance to work with Indigenous communities by researching and responding to important issues.

Richard Devlin, acting dean of the Schulich School of Law, adds, “For several years we have been working hard to expand our course offerings in Indigenous and Aboriginal Law. This certificate, while significant, is just part of a larger project of Indigenizing and eventually decolonizing the law school. We have much more work to do but thanks to Professor Metallic’s wonderful leadership, we are on the right track.”

Lakehead University Bora Laskin Faculty of Law

Mar. 26, 2021– Lakehead University’s Bora Laskin Faculty of Law will soon be home to a new Indigenous law and justice institute. The Maamawi Bimosewag – They Walk Together Institute will focus on engaging with Indigenous communities and organizations, developing curriculum and preparing law students to work with Indigenous people after they graduate. The effort grew out of both the law school’s mandate and the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said Jula Hughes, dean of the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law. The federal budget in 2019 committed to invest up to $10 million over five years in support of these Indigenous law initiatives through a program that called the Justice Partnership and Innovation Program.”

That program is providing up to $437,000 to the institute, which will focus on three areas:

  • Build and sustain relationships with Indigenous organizations and communities to build capacity toward the revitalization of Anisninaabe and Metis law.
  • Focus on land-base learning, including the creation of a law camp that will engage community and faculty in Indigenous land law. The camp, the faculty said, will include Indigenous law revitalization, restatement, and codification methodologies, awareness of Indigenous political and service organizations and cultural competency training.
  • Research, including training students to interview Elders and knowledge keepers, investigating treaty history, conducting community workshops, and documenting Anishinaabe and Metis law and legal principles.

Law professor Nancy Sandy haw been appointed as the institute’s director. Hughes said the institute will be a benefit to law students, as they move on to their careers as lawyers.”Indigenous legal orders are actually a persistent source of law in Canada,” she said. “They’re part of the Canadian legal system. And so, in order for lawyers to be competent to practice, they need to be conversant in Indigenous laws.”Hughes noted that students do take a mandatory course in Indigenous legal orders, but that’s “one course out of many.”

“We need to do more work with the students, so that that knowledge is appropriately developed and they develop those competencies,” she said. “A component of that is also to ensure that students are culturally competent to practice law, serving Indigenous clients, interacting with Indigenous people who may be on the other side of a file, making sure that they understand the importance of community protocols and all of those kinds of aspects of things.”

In addition, Hughes said, Indigenous law in Canada is increasingly being applied in a context of self-governance. “So students also need to come away with competencies regarding everything from modern land claims to … these jurisdictional agreements, impact benefit agreements, in the context of resource extraction,” she said.

University of Victoria: Indigenous Law Research Unit

Mar. 20, 2019 – This learning and research centre and UVic’s Indigenous law degree program are part of UVic’s commitment to the Truth and Reconciliation Report and Calls to Action to establish Indigenous law institutes for the development, use and understanding of Indigenous laws.” The centre will also house the Indigenous Law Research Unit (ILRU), which is a world leader in the study and application of Indigenous law. ILRU has partnered with over 50 Indigenous communities across Canada on legal research questions related to lands, water, governance, citizenship, gender and human rights, harms and injuries, and child welfare, and works with institutions across the globe to revitalize and rebuild Indigenous legal orders. Sample initiatives include:

  • Kipimoojikewin (“the things we carry with us”): How Anishinaabe Law Upholds Local Governance
  • Tsimshian Inter-nation Co-operation and Dispute Resolution
  • Kwseltkten: Secwepemc Citizenship Law
  • Indigenous Governance and Citizenship: Developing a Collaborative ILRU Methodology
  • Tracking Change – The Role of Local and Traditional Knowledge in Watershed Governance
  • Revitalizing Law for Land, Air and Water Project

Feb. 21, 2018 – A new law program at the University of Victoria is the world’s first to combine the intensive study of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous law, enabling people to work fluently across the two realms.

Students will graduate with two professional degrees, one in Canadian Common Law (Juris Doctor or ‘JD’) and one in Indigenous Legal Orders (Juris Indigenarum Doctor or ‘JID’). Their education will benefit areas such as environmental protection, Indigenous governance, economic development, housing, child protection and education—areas where currently there is an acute lack of legal expertise to create institutions that are grounded in Indigenous peoples’ law and to build productive partnerships across the two legal systems.

Indigenous Legal Lodge

The centre, to be built as an addition to the current UVic law building, will be designed to reflect and honour the long-standing relationships between the law school and the Songhees, Esquimalt and WSÁNEĆ peoples. It will include public lecture theatres, faculty and staff offices, an Elders’ room and spaces for gathering, ceremony, and sharing of histories and knowledge. The building’s state-of-the-art digital capabilities will enable students to connect with their home territories and allow communities to share their legal traditions with one another. It will also allow UVic to host conferences, public workshops, research and partnerships for faculty, students and visitors. Planning for the building is in the early concept stage.

The development and 2018 launch of the JD/JID program relied on consultations with and support from a wide range of stakeholders across Canada. The BC government invested $2.5 million in the program’s operating costs in Budget 2018. Also last year, Vancity contributed $1 million and the McConnell Foundation donated $500,000.

Current Indigenous Legal Frameworks

Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) / Cree Nation Government Dec., 2018 – Just over a decade ago – when the Department of Justice and Correctional Services was created – they started down the path of establishing an Indigenous justice system that reflects Cree values,
culture and way of life. This is unique in Canada and rarely seen elsewhere in the world. Their over-all mission is to:

1.      Provide quality services for Cree people in the Cree communities and judicial district of Abitibi.
2.      Increase accessibility to the justice system.
3.      Reduce crime and victimization in the Cree Nation.
4.      Enhance community safety through a Cree global crime prevention strategy, and by partnering with key Cree entities.
5.      Reinforce and promote traditional values in the Cree Nation to better deal with the root causes of our challenges and the negative impacts they produce.
Provide a more restorative (holistic) treatment of Cree people in detention facilities.

Akwesasne Mohawk Territory
Akwesasne is the first and only Indigenous community in Canada to have established a court “for Indigenous people and by Indigenous people.” The court enforces 32 civil laws, while criminal matters remain the jurisdiction of the province or the federal government. Queen’s University Law School held a workshop to educate them about Indigenous legal principles which are expected to become more important to Canada’s legal landscape in the future.

Wahkohtowin Law and Governance Lodge
The Faculty of Law and Faculty of Native Studies and at the University of Alberta announce funding from the Alberta Law Foundation to support Indigenous law and governance through community-led collaborative research and engagement. The initiative will collaborate with Indigenous communities on the recognition, revitalization and practice of Indigenous laws and governance principles. Wahkohtowin was first funded in December of 2018 and will begin planning its core research and work developing Indigenous law starting May 2019.

Aug. 14, 2019 – The Justice Partnership and Innovation Program also provided $134,127 to the University of Alberta for the development of the new Wahkohtowin Law and Governance Lodge.

Tribal Courts in the USA
Since 1934 tribal nations in the U.S. have adopted constitutions and most of those include provisions to have tribal courts. Over incarceration of Indigenous peoples and the parallel child welfare crisis are major justice concerns across Canada, but Angelique EagleWoman, a visiting professor at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law in Minnesota believes these issues can be stemmed through the establishment of Indigenous community courts. Angelique was the first Indigenous law dean in Canada when she was appointed to the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law at Lakehead University in 2016.

Revitalizing Indigenous Laws

Revitalizing Indigenous Laws is an outcome of the “Accessing Justice and Reconciliation” project, a partnership between the University of Victoria’s Indigenous Law Research Unit, Indigenous Bar Association and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2012.

Legal TraditionIndigenous PartnerJustice / Wellness Program
Coast SalishSnuneymuxm First Nation
Tsleil-Waututh Nation
Social Development and Family Preservation Program
North Shore Restorative Justice Society
Tsilhqot’inTsilhqot’in National GovernmentCulture and Customs Program
Northern SecwepemcT’exelc Williams Lake Indian BandHolistic Wellness Program
CreeAseniwuche Winewak NationMamowichihitowin Wellness Program
AnishinabekChippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation # 27Maadookii Senior’s Centre, Residential School Archives
Mi’kmaqMi’kmaq Legal Services Network, EskasoniMi’kmaq Legal Support Network

July 8, 2021 – Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, Saskatchewan

The Revitalization of Indigenous Laws project is to update the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Framework for First Nations Justice System and revitalize Indigenous Laws of First Nations. Developed in 2013, the Framework was a response to 23 separate resolutions passed by the FSIN Chiefs-in-Assembly that mandate the establishment of First Nations justice system to strengthen individuals, families, and communities through the restoration of traditional Indigenous justice. The project will include interviews with knowledge keepers and Elders across First Nation communities in Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan to gain greater insight into Indigenous laws, practices and processes.

The Department of Justice is providing funding for $489,486 over three years through its Justice Partnership and Innovation Program. This program supports activities that respond effectively to the changing conditions affecting Canadian justice policy.

Canadian Bar Association

Responding to the TRC Calls to Action March 2016

The Canadian Bar Association endorses Call to Action # 50 (See also Call to Action 30)

In 2013, the CBA acknowledged the historical interface between Indigenous and European laws and customs, the constitutional protection afforded to Indigenous legal traditions and the role of these systems in the fabric of Canadian society. CBA will continue to work to improve the recognition of Indigenous legal traditions in the legal system and build support for initiatives that acknowledge and advance Indigenous legal traditions in Canada. The CBA welcomes calls to action 42 and 50 and offers the collective experience of its members to assist in reconciling Indigenous and non-Indigenous legal traditions. Call to action 42 would also apply easily to traditional dispute resolution approaches for family justice files.

Official Federal Government Response: Sept. 5, 2019

Indigenous peoples in Canada have unique laws and legal traditions. The Government of Canada recognizes the importance of revitalizing Indigenous legal systems, as well as the important role of Indigenous law institutes. To this end, Budget 2019 announced $9.1 million over 3 years, starting in fiscal year 2019 to 2020, to support the construction of an Indigenous Legal Lodge at the University of Victoria, a leader in this field. The Indigenous Legal Lodge will house the university’s new dual degree program in Canadian Common Law and Indigenous Legal Orders and will serve as a foundation for debate, learning, public education and partnership on the revitalization of Indigenous laws.

Budget 2019 also announced $10 million over 5 years, starting in fiscal year 2019 to 2020, in support of Indigenous law initiatives across Canada through the Justice Partnership and Innovation Program, to improve equality for Indigenous Peoples in Canada’s legal system.

For example, through the Justice Partnership and Innovation Program, $134,127 has been provided to the University of Alberta for the development of the new Wahkohtowin Law and Governance Lodge, as announced by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada on August 14, 2019.