Federal government to provide UVic over nine million dollars for construction of National Centre of Indigenous Law

Campus National News

“This is a real magic moment, this is something to be savoured,” says one of the architects behind UVic’s Indigenous law degree

The Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, making her announcement. Photo by Josh Kozelj, Senior Staff Writer and Editor.

On an otherwise quiet, bright summer morning, a significant pledge was finalized at the University of Victoria. 

With nearly 100 students, faculty, and media members crammed into the MacLaurin Building lobby, the Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, announced today that the Federal government will provide UVic with over nine million dollars to host the new National Centre of Indigenous Law. 

“It is because of all the hard work here (UVic) and the clear need to support that work… that Canada is providing more than nine million dollars to support the construction of the National Centre for Indigenous Law to house the new dual degree program and the Indigenous Law research unit,” said Bennett. 

The donation, Bennett said, also satisfies one of the 94 recommendations made in 2015 from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission along with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. 

“This investment answers Call to Action 50 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commision, which calls on Canada to fund the establishment of an Indigenous law institute for the development, use, and understanding of Indigenous laws,” said Bennett,

“This announcement today is something that’s been a lifelong dream for me — to see Indigenous law is taken seriously, not only within our communities or in the legal profession, but coast-to-coast-to-coast,” added Borrows. 

Of the UN’s 94 recommendations, 10 have been completed, and 23 projects are currently underway, according to an interactive tracking map following the results of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission by the CBC. 

The centre will be built as an addition to the existing Fraser Building, and will include lecture theatres, offices, elders’ room, and space for ceremonies and gatherings. 

In UVic’s 2019/2020 Five Year Plan, however, the university said it needed a total of $27.1 million to complete the full National Centre for Indigenous Law addition to the Fraser building. A timetable for the renovations wasn’t mentioned. 

Bennett added that in their 2019 budget, the government has pledged another $10 million to support Indigenous law initiatives across Canada through a justice partnership and innovation program. 

“This funding will increase the development, use, and understanding of Indigenous laws and access to justice in accordance with the unique cultures of Indigenous peoples in Canada,” said Bennett.

The announcement comes three months after the Liberal government originally declared that UVic would receive $9.1 million from their 2019 budget to help build a national centre for Indigenous Law. 

Two of the architects behind creating the world’s first Indigenous law degree at UVic, Val Napoleon, Law Foundation Professor of Aboriginal Justice and Governance, and John Borrows, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law, were on hand to discuss the significance of the announcement. 

“This is a real magic moment, this is something to be savoured,” said Napoleon. “I want to thank Minister Bennett for being a tireless champion for us, working in Ottawa and supporting us.” 

“This announcement today is something that’s been a lifelong dream for me — to see Indigenous law is taken seriously, not only within our communities or in the legal profession, but coast-to-coast-to-coast,” added Borrows. 

The four-year Indigenous law program recently launched in the fall, with the first cohort of students wrapping up their first year in the spring, and will welcome a new batch of students in September. 

Amanda Vick, a member of the Gitxsan First Nation, and a student in the Juris Doctor (JD)/Juris Indigenarum Doctor (JID) program, talked about how a national centre for Indigenous law will give future students a safe place to study and learn. 

“Our future JID students will now have a home away from home,” Vick said. “This home will be culturally safe and will reflect the Indigenous peoples of our country for whom we intend to do this amazing work on behalf of.”