New Initiative Promises Community-led Research on Indigenous Law and Governance

U of A Faculties of Law and Native Studies launch Wahkohtowin Law and Governance Lodge

Helen Metella - 06 February 2019

The Faculty of Law and the Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta are launching a new initiative to support Indigenous law and governance, through research that is led by the Indigenous community.

The Wahkohtowin Law and Governance Lodge is funded by the Alberta Law Foundation through a two-year grant. It was created to honour Call to Action #50 from the "Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada," which asks Canada to establish Indigenous law institutes in collaboration with Indigenous communities, with the goal of both developing and using Indigenous laws and also promoting a wider understanding of them.

"The project advances one of the key objects of the Foundation which is to support Indigenous legal programs," says Darlene Scott, QC, chair of the Alberta Law Foundation.

Indigenous law refers to the laws of Indigenous peoples, including deeply rooted legal traditions, principles and processes, as well as newly developed laws, legislation and agreements. It is distinct from Aboriginal law, which is the term used to describe the body of law addressing Aboriginal and treaty rights guaranteed within Canada's Constitution.

"This remarkable and generous grant will assist greatly in helping us respond further to the Calls to Action in the 2015 "Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada," said Paul Paton, dean of the Faculty of Law. "While we have made great strides, we have further yet to go. This support is the culmination of over two years of engagement with the Foundation in this area, and provides us both an opportunity and challenge: to demonstrate how research and community engagement can serve the public interest."

"This grant will support important work by our faculty and students relating to Indigenous governance models and legal practices for many years to come," said Paton.

The initiative will be co-led by Hadley Friedland, a professor of the Faculty of Law, and Shalene Jobin, a professor of the Faculty of Native Studies.

Jobin developed and runs the Indigenous Governance Program at the Faculty of Native Studies. Prior to joining the Faculty of Law, Friedland contributed to and helped lead the Indigenous Law Research Unit at the University of Victoria Faculty of Law.

Alongside community engagement officer Jodi Stonehouse, they will develop working relationships within interested partner communities, collaboratively determine the scope and need for the work that can be accomplished, work on a pilot project, make law and governance resources accessible, and develop and offer workshops and community co-taught, land-based learning opportunities. During the initial phase, in conjunction with James Muir, the Faculty of Law's associate dean of research, they will also focus on building the organizational structure of the project and a robust partnership between the faculties.

The Wahkohtowin Law and Governance Lodge will work in collaborative partnership with Indigenous communities as they continue their work of revitalizing the practice of Indigenous laws and governance principles, said Chris Andersen, dean of the Faculty of Native Studies.

"Hadley and Shalene have already worked hard to build relationships with communities," said Andersen. "The Alberta Law Foundation is providing support for them to continue to build on and expand these relationships."

It's important to create spaces for Indigenous laws to be recognized and renewed, said Koren Lightning-Earle, an Indigenous lawyer who is the initiatives liaison with the Law Society of Alberta and a former president of the Indigenous Bar Association.

"Initiatives like this one introduce Indigenous laws to all students, which will ultimately create better lawyers and a better justice system," she said.

There is a hunger across the country for more research into Indigenous law and governance, said Val Napoleon, director of the Indigenous Law Research Unit at the University of Victoria.

"Researching Indigenous law and governance is hard work because it is essentially rebuilding Indigenous lawfulness and citizenries," she said.

"The Wahkohtowin Lodge will significantly increase the capacity to do this sort of work at the invitation of and along with Indigenous groups and communities in Canada."

The Alberta Law Foundation, established under the Legal Profession Act, is the recipient of the interest which banks, credit unions, trust companies and treasury branches must pay on clients' funds that are held in lawyers' general trust accounts. With those funds, the Foundation also made grants to the Alberta Law Reform Institute and the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre.

In addition to the Alberta Law Foundation's generous support, the Wahkohtowin Law and Governance project is supported by the Faculty of Native Studies and the Faculty of Law. It will be housed at the University of Alberta Faculty of Law.

Further details and a formal launch will take place in May 2019.

PHOTO CAPTION: From left, standing: Avery Letendre, James Muir, Dean Paul Paton, Dean Chris Andersen, Jodi Calahoo-Stonehouse. Sitting: Hadley Friedland, Shalene Jobin

PHOTO CAPTION: Aseniwuche Winewak community instructors and U of A students proudly display their tanned moose hide, which was the central activity of "The Wahkohtowin Project: Pedagogy and Practice through Community and Academic Indigenous-Based Learning Collaborations," an on-the-land course that first launched in 2017.