University of Ottawa’s Civil Law Section offers new certificate in Indigenous law
To help revitalize Indigenous legal systems and provide a more respectful welcome to Indigenous learners on an academic path in law, the University of Ottawa’s Civil Law Section is launching a new certificate in Indigenous law.
The certificate is the first French-language Indigenous law program in Canada. It will offer Indigenous learners an introduction to the legal systems of different Indigenous peoples in Canada, which they will be encouraged to compare with Quebec and Canadian state-derived systems in certain key areas of law. They will thus be able to get to know the sources, foundations, principles and rules of Indigenous and of state-derived law, including Quebec’s civil law regime.
The certificate will draw on Indigenous approaches, adopting experiential and holistic teaching methods and connecting interdisciplinarity and learning by doing. Learning through observation, oral traditions, field stays and textual analysis will also be favoured. Courses will be given mainly by Indigenous professors. The presence of elders will be highly valued, with speakers who convey Indigenous culture regularly invited, to encourage the oral transfer of legal knowledge.
Initiated by Professor Eva Ottawa, an Atikamekw-Nehirowiskwew and member of the Manawan community, with the support of Sophie Thériault, professor and vice dean academic at the Civil Law Section, this brand new program will enable Indigenous students to make their legal systems their own while minimizing the cultural shock they experience in their legal studies. This year-long certificate program (30 academic units) will also allow them to learn the fundamentals needed to succeed in the Licentiate in Law (civil law) program, and then move on to practice, graduate law studies or the JD program offered by the Common Law Section.
Marie-Eve Sylvestre, dean of the Civil Law Section, notes that the section has been a pioneer in teaching and research pertaining to Indigenous law for many years. In the 1990s and 2000s, it offered a seven-week pre-law program for Indigenous applicants. 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, and since 2018, it has also offered an intensive mandatory course on Indigenous legal systems for all first-year Licentiate in Law students. “This new certificate program aims to continue in our Faculty commitment to decolonize our programs, while responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action,” says Sylvestre.
Sophie Thériault, vice-dean academic, adds: “Establishing this certificate is one more step on the road to reconciliation. This unique program will further access for a greater number of Indigenous students to legal education and professions, which will deepen reflection on the interaction between state-derived and Indigenous law, as well as increase access to justice for Indigenous peoples.”
Professor Eva Ottawa is also enthusiastic: “Having taken the pre-law course offered by the Civil Law Section in 1999 myself, I believe that welcoming learners to the world of Indigenous legal systems will strengthen their cultural knowledge while supporting their academic progress and success. I’m hopeful that this program will be of use in all areas — personal, professional, community.”
The program, which will begin this August, has received the support of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador and its chief, Ghislain Picard, who sees it as an opportunity for Indigenous learners to study in a field that highlights their reality, opening a path to the study of Indigenous legal traditions.
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