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 StatusAug. 17, 2020IN PROGRESS
Previous StatusJune 15, 2020IN PROGRESS

Why “In Progress”?

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

Responses

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
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.