Indigenous legal orders at the heart of a new university program

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It is a unique program that will address the Indigenous legal systems, the Indigenous legal traditions as we live them, as we understand them. We have developed a program that is inspired by the First Nations way of doing things, of transmitting knowledge. 

Indigenous law and Indigenous ways of knowing were and are not well understood. People that will be studying in the program, and it’s starting with Indigenous people, will first of all, better understand their own laws of their nation, and then understand Canadian law and how they can work and meld the two together. It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s possible. 

The vision of justice is not the same in our nations. It is two completely different concepts. This is why it is important for me to take part in this training.  

Because we are talking about our natural laws, our principles, our values, which are ours, what we call justice. But even then, we don’t even say these words in our languages, the law or the juridical, because they are more concepts that are specific to us and to our way of life and who we are as an identity.  

The courses that are going to be given will be given sometimes by Indigenous people, First Nations, maybe Inuits too, and then there will be the inclusion of the elders who will bring teachings.  

An idea came up to really find a way to welcome Indigenous learners from different communities. To welcome them from their Indigenous legal orders, from their world. To begin from, the learners as well, from their own cultural baggage. They carry the law and this is really to revive those elements.   

In an effort to contribute to the revitalization of Indigenous legal orders and provide a more respectful welcome to Indigenous learners on an academic path in law, the University of Ottawa’s Civil Law Section has launched a new Certificate in Indigenous Law. This short video provides an overview of the project.

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.

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.

The program will receive assistance from the federal government, through the Department of Justice Canada, which has agreed to financially support the Visual Lab on Indigenous Legal Orders, created in conjunction with the Certificate in partnership with This new Lab will enable the creation of short audiovisual capsules in collaboration with Indigenous partners, highlighting Indigenous justice and legal systems. Justice Canada’s financial support aligns with the Government of Canada’s response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.

Launch of the Certificate in Indigenous Law at the University of Ottawa Civil Law Section

This video features the launch event for the new program, which took place on August 17, 2022. The event included comments from Eva Ottawa, the Dean of the Civil Law Section, Marie-Eve Sylvestre, and University of Ottawa President, Jacques Frémont, as well as a ceremonial welcome by Gilbert Whiteduck, Elder-in-residence at the University of Ottawa, a song of honour performed by Brad Picody and his band, and speeches by the Honorable David Lametti, Minister of Justice for Canada and Ghislain Picard, Regional Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Quebec-Labrador. Eva Ottawa and Sophie Thériault closed the event by introducing the first cohort of students and the academic team. 

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