Actions and Commitments

Call to Action # 28: Justice (25-42)

University of Ottawa Faculty of Law – Common Law

January 31, 2024

Located in the heart of downtown Ottawa on the ancestral territory of the Algonquin Nation, within walking distance of Parliament Hill and the Supreme Court of Canada, the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law provides the best opportunity in the world to study Common Law, Civil Law and Indigenous legal traditions in English or in French.

As a global and national leader in a variety of fields, Common Law offers specializations in Dispute Resolution, Environmental Law, International Trade, Business and Human Rights Law, Social Justice, and Technology Law, Public Law, and Aboriginal Law. 

Faculty of Law Common Law Commitment to Truth and Reconciliation

Claudette Commanda, Common Law alum and former Elder in Residence for the Common Law Section, has been appointed Chancellor of the University of Ottawa. She is the first Indigenous woman to hold the position of Chancellor. Her Installation took place during the Faculty of Law Convocation Ceremony in June 2023. 

While uOttawa is moving ahead, we are not the only university in Canada working to support and embrace Indigenous people and knowledges, quite frankly, there are other institutions that have accomplished more. This is why, in the time I am Chancellor, my vision and mission is for uOttawa to be the lead through innovative actions – actions inclusive of First Nation / Indigenous people, histories, wisdom, truths and experiences. 

Installation remarks: Claudette Commanda, Chancellor, University of Ottawa

Faculty of Law, Common Law Section Indigenous Pathways Statement

The faculty’s Indigenous Pathways Statement was first published on the faculty webpage in July 2019:

The University of Ottawa Faculty of Law recognizes that it is on Algonquin land in a territory where Algonquin legal orders have operated for millennia and continue to do so today. As a faculty we are committed to education that is multi-juridical including Indigenous laws and legal orders, common law, and civil laws. We provide space for all students to learn, interrogate and critique all law in a professional, ethical and respectful way. 

We believe in the values of respect and reciprocity of relationships and are committed to fostering knowledge and skills relating to Indigenous laws, Indigenous peoples, anti-discrimination and the full implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action and United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Our teaching, research and service will engage Indigenous knowledge, legal orders, governance, nations, communities and people. With open minds and hearts, we commit ourselves to creating and maintaining an institution of legal pedagogy that amplifies and features Indigenous pedagogy, methodology and research. Our providing decolonizing spaces, pedagogies, and knowledge in order to prepare our learners, staff and faculty for participation in respectful and reciprocal relationships with Indigenous peoples and communities. 

This law school will not shy away from recognizing that destructive nature of colonial law on Indigenous peoples’ political and cultural survival. The faculty has a role to play in correcting past culture and legal arrogance and will be fully respectful and inclusive of Indigenous legal theory, laws and processes as an integral part of what we call Canadian law. 

Kristen Boon, Susan & Perry Dellelce Dean reiterated the Common Law Section’s commitment to the TRC Calls to Action in the Message from the Dean:

The Common Law Section is deeply committed to social and racial justice; advancing equity, diversity and inclusion in our faculty; and instilling these values in our students. Our scholars are confronting the most pressing issues of the day, from climate change to reconciliation, to the ethics of artificial intelligence and the regulation of our privacy.  We are national and global leaders in multiple fields, including Aboriginal and Indigenous Law… Building the law school of the future demands deliberate and innovative collaboration with significant partners. It requires expanding and inspiring meaningful engagement with our community. We are dedicated to our leadership role in Canada’s reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, and addressing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action

“Message from the Dean”: Kristen Boon, Susan & Perry Dellelce Dean

Other Initiatives

Reconciliation and Decolonization Committee

The Reconciliation and Decolonization Committee at the Faculty of Law, Common Law Section provides support to the faculty and works diligently on the faculty’s response to TRC Calls to Action #27 and #28. Committee members develop and teach courses treating Indigenous peoples and Canadian law, and Indigenous laws and legal orders; plan events; offer guidance and support to faculty, staff, students, and administration on issues related to pedagogy and community connection. The committee is responsible for developing short- and long-term strategic plans to facilitate our response to the TRC Calls to Action.

Indigenous Law Student Governance

The faculty is home to Canada’s first Indigenous Law Student Governance. With the support of faculty, staff, allies, and community, the Indigenous Law Student Governance became a self-governing student body recognized by the University of Ottawa Student Union in November 2020. They are a well-respected student government at the faculty, and they work in parallel with the Association étudiante de Common Law Student Society. 

Manager, Indigenous and Community Relations 

The faculty is currently searching for a Manager of Indigenous and Community Relations.  This position will provide leadership for Indigenous affairs and will build community at the faculty level.  This role will interpret both the federal government mandate and aligns to uOttawa Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action while strategically developing an implementation strategy for professional legal education. 

Indigenous Programs Specialist 

The faculty has a dedicated specialist who provides guidance and support to Indigenous students through academic and professional development, and cultural workshops. The Specialist hosts a number of regular activities for Indigenous and non-Indigenous members of the Common Law community, including a weekly Community Beading Circle which is open to everyone at the Faculty of Law. Beading Circle provides an opportunity for the development and recognition of Indigenous legal pedagogies. Beading Circle also fosters the opportunity to gather in community which allows for the creation of strong relationships.

Algonquin Anishinaabe Knowledge Holder

This June 2023, the Faculty of Common Law retained Algonquin Anishinaabe Knowledge Holder, Gilbert Whiteduck from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation, to provide Indigenous students with culturally appropriate support, as well as providing guidance to all students, faculty, and staff. 

First-Year Law Student Orientation 

During the first-year orientation for all law students, the faculty invited its Algonquin Anishinaabeg Knowledge Holder, Gilbert Whiteduck, to welcome the students. There was an introductory session about the mandatory Call to Action modules during Orientation with Fred McGregor, from Kitigan Zibi, and hosted by Prof Signa Daum Shanks. 

The Path

In addition to working towards implementing a mandatory course for all Law Students, the faculty of Law has also encouraged all faculty and staff to take part in The PATH Training offered through Canadian Bar Association. 

Call to Action # 28

We call upon law schools in Canada to require all law students to take a course in Aboriginal people and the law, which includes the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations. This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and antiracism.

Mandatory Course: Yes 

English Common Law Program

The English JD Program is currently running a pilot project that integrates exploration of the Seven Grandfather Teachings through the lens of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Call to Action 27 and 28 into the first-year curriculum. These seven modules are mandatory for all first-year students. During the modules, the faculty engages with and invites Elders and Knowledge Holders to participate, as well as an Indigenous Visiting Judge and members of the bar to witness and learn so that they too can pass knowledge along to their workspaces and help build connections with students creating future relationships. The Modules are designed to ensure that both Indigenous and non-Indigenous speakers present during the modules. The faculty is in the process of obtaining approval for the pilot course to become a mandatory three-credit course in the first-year curriculum.  We will run the mandatory pilot again in 2024, and the permanent curriculum change will be finalized by Sept. 2025. 

Only one 3 credit option: Aboriginal Law and Indigenous Legal Tradition

The Aboriginal Law and Indigenous Legal Traditions Option is intended for JD students wishing to gain in-depth and practical experience in Aboriginal law including some exposure to Indigenous peoples’ legal traditions. The strong research interests of many of our professors support a particularly rich array of courses in Aboriginal law and Indigenous legal traditions.

Any enrolled JD student may take a course listed as an Aboriginal Law Option course. However, JD students who wish to receive formal recognition for having completed the Aboriginal Law Option, which consists of a notation on their transcript, must complete a minimum of 18 units in the area of Aboriginal Law and Indigenous Legal Traditions.

See also Decolonizing Legal Learning: Moving forward on Call to Action 28 at the Common Law Section | University of Ottawa (uottawa.ca)

Aboriginal Law and Indigenous Legal Traditions Option

Common Law students can earn the Aboriginal Law and Indigenous Legal Traditions Option, which formally recognizes rigorous training in these fields of study. Students must complete a minimum of 18 units in the area of Aboriginal Law and Indigenous Legal Traditions and must complete the major research paper requirement on a related subject. 

The Aboriginal Law and Indigenous Legal Traditions Option is an opportunity for law students to gain an in-depth and practical experience in Aboriginal law including some exposure to Indigenous peoples’ legal traditions. The strong research interests of many of our professors support a particularly rich array of courses in Aboriginal law and Indigenous legal traditions.

Option in Aboriginal Law and Indigenous Legal Traditions | Faculty of Law (uottawa.ca)

Courses with Units on Indigenous Issues

There are a number of courses which contain Indigenous-related units of study, including but not limited to:

  • Constitutional Law
    • Aboriginal rights – section 35
  • Property Law
    • Treaties and Aboriginal rights 
    • Indigenous law in relation to land use
    • Indigenous-Crown relations
    • Indigenous Intellectual property and common and Indigenous law
    • The history and legacy of residential schools
    • UNDRIP
  • Criminal Law and Procedure
    • Indigenous legal systems in relation to principles of criminal law
  • Indigenous Peoples and the Law
    • Indigenous legal orders
    • Indigenous self-governance
    • Constitutional framework of Aboriginal rights and title
    • Fiduciary obligations of federal and provincial governments 
    • Treaties and treaty rights
    • Land claims
    • Indigenous law and economic development
    • Indigenous sovereignty and reconciliation 
  • Indigenous Law, Art Law & IP (Intellectual Property)
    • Intersection and coexistence of Indigenous Law, Art, and IP 
  • Negotiation and Indigenous Issues
    • Aboriginal – Crown Relations 
      • Historic Specific Claims and other fiduciary claims
      • Governance
      • Collaborative agreements with private industry. 
  • Environmental Law
    • Indigenous laws in relation to the environment 
  • Human Rights Laws in Canada
  • Feminist Legal Issues 
  • Trusts
  • Cyberfeminism 
  • Kawaskimhon National Aboriginal Moot Competition – Bilingual 
  • Theory and Practice of Social Justice / Théorie et pratique en droit et justice sociale
  • Public International Law / Droit international public
  • Les droits linguistiques au Canada
1The history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools
Yes. Currently taught in the mandatory first year Call To Action modules that are integrated into the first year property law course. It will be taught in a stand-alone mandatory courses in both the Programme de common law en français and the English Common Law Program as of 2025 (Presented to the University Senate for approval).
2The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Yes. Currently taught in the mandatory first year Call To Action modules that are integrated into the first year property law course. It will be taught in a stand-alone mandatory courses in both the Programme de common law en français and the English Common Law Program as of 2025 (Presented to the University Senate for approval).
3Treaties and Aboriginal rights
Yes, it is currently taught in the mandatory first year Call To Action modules, which are integrated into the first year property law course. It will be taught in the stand-alone mandatory courses being approved in both the Programme de common law en français and the English Common Law Program. (Presented to the University Senate for approval).This content has been taught in the mandatory Public and Constitutional Law (1L) and Constitutional Law II courses (2L) since 2010, in accordance with the National Requirement set by the Federation of Law Societies.
4Indigenous law
Yes, it is currently taught in the mandatory first year Call To Action modules, which are integrated into the first year property law course. It will be taught in the stand-alone mandatory courses being approved in both the Programme de common law en français and the English Common Law Program. (Presented to the University Senate for approval).
5Aboriginal–Crown Relations
Yes, it is currently taught in the mandatory first year Call To Action modules, which are integrated into the first year property law course. It will be taught in the stand-alone mandatory courses being approved in both the Programme de common law en français and the English Common Law Program. (Presented to the University Senate for approval).This content has been taught in the mandatory Public and Constitutional Law (1L) and Constitutional Law II courses (2L) since 2010, in accordance with the National Requirement set by the Federation of Law Societies.

Land Acknowledgement:

Faculty of Law – Common Law: Home Page

We pay respect to the Algonquin people, who are the traditional guardians of this land. We acknowledge their longstanding relationship with this territory, which remains unceded.

We pay respect to all Indigenous people in this region, from all nations across Canada, who call Ottawa home.

We acknowledge the traditional knowledge keepers, both young and old. And we honour their courageous leaders: past, present, and future.