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Funding provided to help develop, understand and use Indigenous laws, build governance structures

The Wahkohtowin Law and Governance Lodge at the University of Alberta is one of 21 recipients in the second round of funding in the Justice Partnership and Innovation Program (JPIP) offered by Canada’s Department of Justice.

The Wahkohtowin Law and Governance Lodge at the University of Alberta is one of 21 recipients in the second round of funding in the Justice Partnership and Innovation Program (JPIP) offered by Canada’s Department of Justice.

For Hadley Friedland, assistant professor in the Faculty of Law at UAlberta, the recognition is especially rewarding as JPIP is the federal government’s response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Call to Action #50.

That call falls under the heading of Equity for Aboriginal People in the Legal System. It reads, “In keeping with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, we call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal organizations, to fund the establishment of Indigenous law institutes for the development, use, and understanding of Indigenous laws and access to justice in accordance with the unique cultures of Aboriginal peoples in Canada.”

“Number 50 in the TRC final report is actually based on a research project I was part of at the University of Victoria,” said Friedland.

In 2015, the TRC’s final report referenced the Accessing Justice and Reconciliation project, a national research initiative that was developed by the TRC in partnership with the Indigenous Bar Association and the Indigenous Law Clinic of the University of Victoria’s Faculty of Law.

The project brought together six different legal traditions from seven First Nation communities across Canada to collaboratively work together and provide insights into how Indigenous law “in all its diversity and interconnectedness is applied in real-life situations,” said the final report.

A safe space was created at UVic for that work, and was also created at UAlberta’s Wahkohtowin Lodge.

“It’s where a community can come in and there’s just no question Indigenous law exists and they’re valuable. We know that there’s been damage. We know there’s been destruction. And we also know there’s been that devaluation. We’re creating … an accepting space, a nurturing space,” said Friedland. 

Wahkohtowin Lodge began operating in 2018, its core funding coming from the Alberta Law Foundation. The lodge is a joint initiative of the faculties of law and Native studies, the latter led by associate professor Shalene Jobin.

Friedland says she and Jobin were repeatedly approached by Indigenous communities who had the vision and goals but needed support to do their own law and governance work.

“Both of us are really committed to community-led research, not engaged, but directed and led. We thought there’s such a need for it,” said Friedland.

This funding from JPIP, just under $390,000 over the next three years, will help in the development of workshops and legal education strategies. This year the funding will be spent on resources and the following two years it will help with workshops that will be open to Indigenous communities across Canada.

In 2019, the lodge received $135,000 through JPIP.

Two other post-secondary institutes received funding this year:  Université Laval in Québec for a project which will strengthen Inuit capacity and governance in the area of justice in Nunavik by documenting, mobilizing and promoting Inuit legal practices and knowledge; and Lakehead University in Ontario for a project that will lay the foundation for an Indigenous Law and Justice Institute at the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law.

Other projects funded span the country and are varied, and include a project that will explore the Heiltsuk Tribal Council's Heiltsuk Gvilas (traditional code of laws and legal order) to inform Heiltsuk laws, policies and governance processes; the Dehla Got'ine Caribou Law Project in the Northwest Territories, that will research and document ancient laws and traditions related to caribou harvesting; and, the Henvey Inlet First Nation in Ontario, which will revitalize their laws through the development of a curriculum rooted in community engagement between Elders, knowledge keepers, youth and leadership.

The only Métis organization to receive funding was the Métis Nation of Alberta for a project aimed to develop a legal framework that will incorporate Métis cultural aspects and support the development of Métis child and family services laws.

In total, $9.5 million was allotted through JPIP and “will help to make a real difference for Indigenous communities doing the sometimes challenging but important work of revitalizing their legal systems,” said David Lametti, minister of Justice and Attorney General.

“These 21 projects will have an important impact on communities as they support the development, use and understanding of Indigenous laws. Commitments and collaborations like these are increasing access to justice for Indigenous peoples, which is critical to advancing reconciliation and supporting self-determination," said Indigenous Services Canada Minister Marc Miller.

Friedland is pleased with the wide range of projects.

“Taken together, as a whole, these projects demonstrate the depth and breadth of Indigenous laws and the exciting potential in a plurality of approaches across many communities, legal traditions and subjects,” said Friedland.

Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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