Official Launch of a New Certificate in Indigenous Law Program

Posted on Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Première cohorte du certificat en droit autochtone de la Section de droit civil

Civil Law's Certificate in Indigenous Laws Program's First Cohort 

On August 17, 2022, several notable guests were on hand for the official launch of a new certificate program in Indigenous law. They were joined by students from the new program’s very first cohort.

The certificate in Indigenous law, the first program of its kind to be taught in French in Canada, aims to honour and revitalize Indigenous legal orders, provide a more respectful welcome to Indigenous learners studying law at the University, and ensure access to justice and legal education for Indigenous peoples.

To open the event, future uOttawa chancellor and Traditional Knowledge Keeper Claudette Commanda, who is a member of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg Algonquin First Nation, was joined by Gilbert Whiteduck, also a member of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg Algonquin First Nation and the Civil Law Section’s first Elder in Residence, along with one of the students enrolled in the certificate in Indigenous law program. Brad Picody and his group, White Tail Cree, performed a song to honour the event and highlight its significance. Their voices and drumbeats resonated in the hearts of all those present.

Reaffirming a longstanding commitment

Civil Law Section Dean Marie-Ève Sylvestre and uOttawa President Jacques Frémont reiterated the University of Ottawa’s longstanding commitment to Indigenous communities and its sincere desire to be a partner in decolonizing and revitalizing Indigenous legal orders. Jacques Frémont stated that this certificate program was one of the best initiatives he had witnessed since his arrival at the University some six years before.

For several years, the Civil Law Section has been at the forefront of teaching and research in Indigenous law. As early as the 1980s, uOttawa was offering a course on Indigenous peoples and Canadian law, well before most Quebec law faculties would follow suit. In the 1990s and 2000s, the Faculty offered a seven-week pre-law program for Indigenous candidates and since 2006, it has offered field-based summer schools, through which around 50 Indigenous students a year have been introduced to the Innu legal system. Since 2018, all first-year licentiate in law students must take the Section’s mandatory intensive course on Indigenous legal orders. “This new certificate program aims to continue our Faculty’s commitment to decolonizing our programs, while responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action,” said the dean. 

Funding from Justice Canada

The Honourable David Lametti, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, recently announced in a video that the University would receive $600,000 over three years through the Justice Partnership and Innovation Program. This funding is earmarked for the creation of the certificate program’s Visual Laboratory on Indigenous Legal Orders, which will design multimedia educational content in cooperation with Indigenous partners to highlight their justice systems and legal traditions. This lab will thus increase knowledge, raise awareness, and foster understanding of Indigenous legal orders, and encourage insightful dialogue between justice system stakeholders.

Ghislain Picard

 

“I’d like to praise the initiative of the University of Ottawa’s Civil Law Section. In this time of reconciliation, the certificate program in Indigenous law represents a much-needed shift towards a better understanding of our legal systems. Our peoples are taking one more step towards self-determination.”

Ghislain Picard, Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief, Quebec/Labrador

A warm welcome

Professor Eva Ottawa, an Atikamekw-Nehirowiskwew and member of the Manawan community, said that it was heartwarming to see her longstanding dream of promoting Indigenous law, born when she was a licentiate in law student herself, finally come to fruition. Vice-Dean Sophie Thériault then introduced the first 18 students enrolled in the certificate program to the University community and sincerely thanked all those involved in creating the program. Donors of $10,000 scholarships for students enrolling in the certificate program were also in attendance. 

“My dream is to learn that one day, a student in this inaugural cohort that I supported [...] has been appointed to the bench.”

Nicole Senécal, scholarship donor

An innovative curriculum

The students enrolled in this program were on campus to complete the second part of a course that introduces Indigenous legal orders and state law after spending one week at Domaine Notcimik, on Atikamekw Nehirowisiw territory, for the first part of the course. The following week, their education would continue virtually from Wemotaci, or from Kitigan Zibi, or from Maliotenam, or Odanak, or elsewhere! The program is so innovative that even President Frémont and Chief Picard expressed interest in being invited to participate in the course on Indigenous legal orders and constitutional law.

The University of Ottawa and the Civil Law Section warmly welcome the members of this first cohort and would like to wish them a very successful year!

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