The University of Victoria is celebrating the construction of its National Center for Indigenous Law (NCIL).
The building is the first of its kind in Canada and has received funding from the provincial and federal governments, as well as the Law Foundation of BC
The NCIL is scheduled to open by fall 2024. Besides being a space to learn, the facility will help Indigenous laws re-emerge.
“Indigenous laws are lived and are living, but they have been suppressed and we have lost pieces of our laws,” said Patricia Barkaskas, NCIL strategic advisor to the dean.
“The space itself is a way to bring to life the living and lived Indigenous legal practices,” she said.
Construction of the NCIL comes about five years after UVic launched Canada’s first and only joint degree program in Canadian Common Law and Indigenous legal orders (JD/JID).
Its inaugural class graduated last year, including graduate Jolene Ashini.
“I work for a law firm here in Toronto that represents my First Nation back home in Labrador,” said Ashini.
The law graduate is currently working on developing a child welfare law for the community.
“I’m able to actually take my First Nations legal principles and rules and apply them in making this child welfare law,” she said.
Val Napoleon, acting dean of the faculty of law at UVic, says the work graduates do can have far-reaching benefits.
“Indigenous law matters profoundly, not just to this university, this law school, but Indigenous law matters to Canada and matters to the world,” she said.
While the NCIL is based in Victoria, the hope is that students will branch off and transform the judicial system beyond Vancouver Island.
“There are about 23 of us in the world who have graduated and then we’re adding another 20-something more, and it’s just going to grow and grow,” said Ashini.
In 2019, the federal government promised $9.1 million for construction of the NCIL. One year later, the BC government pledged $13 million for construction.
The Law Foundation of BC initially promised $5-million in funding for the project, but on Thursday promised another $6-million, bringing its contribution to a total of $11 million.