The world’s first dual-degree program in Indigenous and non-Indigenous law will soon have a new home at the University of Victoria.
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett confirmed Tuesday that the federal government will contribute $9.1 million to build a national centre for Indigenous law on campus.
The centre will house the dual- degree program in Canadian Common Law and Indigenous Legal Orders, which began last fall with 26 students.
“We really believe that today’s announcement is an investment into Canada’s future and to reconciliation,” Bennett told a ceremony at the University of Victoria.
The money was first announced as part of the federal budget in March.
John Borrows, Canadian Research Chair in Indigenous Law, said the Indigenous law centre will be an addition to UVic’s law school, but feature its own distinct design reflecting Coast Salish and other traditions from across the country.
“The features within in the law school as well as the facade of the law school will definitely indicate the Indigenous presence in this area,” he said.
Borrows said it’s hoped the building will be completed within the next five years.
The four-year Indigenous law program will add 25 students a year until it reaches 100 and eventually outgrows its current space within the UVic law school, he said.
The new centre will include lecture theatres, faculty offices, an elders’ room and “spaces for gathering, ceremony, and sharing of histories and knowledge,” the university says.
It will also have digital technology to link students to their home territories and other communities.
“This announcement today is something that’s been a lifelong dream for me to be able to see that Indigenous law is taken seriously, not only within our communities and within the legal profession, but from coast to coast to coast,” Borrows said.
Amanda Vick, a 28-year-old student in the Indigenous law program, acknowledged the efforts of the university, province and federal government to honour Indigenous law.
“I see this as a small step in the journey toward reconciliation and an investment in our future where Indigenous legal orders will be honoured and recognized,” she said. “We are challenging the status quo, pushing boundaries, and working to decolonize the institution. We are in a time of strength and resurgence.”
Vick noted that her class includes Indigenous and non-Indigenous students from across the country. The new centre will be their “home away from home,” she said.
“This home will be culturally safe and will reflect the Indigenous peoples of our country [on whose behalf] we intend to do this amazing work.”
Bennett said the federal government will give UVic’s law faculty an additional $173,000 over three years to develop courses and field studies in Indigenous communities.