Actions and Commitments

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

University of Western Ontario – Western Law

January 31, 2024

Our Faculty of Law was established in 1959 and has a proud tradition of producing great leaders in a variety of fields. With an incoming class size of 185 students, among one of the smallest in Ontario, we form a collegial dynamic community committed to the success of our students and faculty.

Western Law’s JD program is known for its unparalleled student experience, its wide range of international, clinical and mooting opportunities, and its academically rigorous curriculum. We have a long, proud tradition of producing great leaders in many fields, while maintaining a unique sense of community that lasts long after graduation. With our small class size, and signature small group program, students will build strong relationships with our faculty and classmates in an inclusive, collegial environment.  

Faculty of Law Commitment to Truth and Reconciliation

Western Law formed a working group in early 2016 to implement the TRC Calls to Action and other reconciliation projects. The working group has been comprised of the Dean and four to five faculty members. We have adopted the approach that Indigenous content and perspectives should be embedded throughout the curriculum.

Indigenous Initiatives at Western Law

As a law school, we are committed to having an ongoing response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. Western Law takes its responsibility seriously to advance reconciliation in the law school environment and is working with the Office of Indigenous Initiatives to increase the participation of Indigenous students. Virtually all practice areas engage with these issues, and today’s lawyers need to be aware of both the historical context and contemporary challenges in order to be ethical, socially-conscious, and effective practitioners.”

– Erika Chamberlain, Dean of Law

Update to Strategic Plan: Fall 2019

Our Changing Context

Reconciliation: In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission published its reports and Calls to Action, which include a call for law schools to introduce mandatory curriculum “on Aboriginal people and the law”, and has fostered reflective conversations about the process of reconciliation in legal education and legal practice. 

Priority Implementation

Offering an academically rigorous and relevant legal education

Since 2014

  • Reviewed our curriculum to identify opportunities to embed Indigenous perspectives, laws, and histories within existing courses. 
  • Held Indigenous Law Camps at local First Nations communities, attended by both faculty and students. 

Looking ahead we will:

  • Expand the number and range of opportunities for our students to gain knowledge of Indigenous laws, perspectives, and experiences. 

See also the November 2022 summary report to the Canadian Council of Law Deans on the implementation of the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)

Student Experiences

Western Law enters teams in the Kawaskimhon Talking Circle and offers participating students credit through an intensive course in January.  The course introduces the basic principles of Indigenous ways of resolving legal disputes. The Kawaskimhon Talking Circle is a national event held annually among Canadian law schools. Unlike appellate advocacy competitions, the Kawaskimhon combines advocacy with a collaborative negotiation-style process which draws from Indigenous traditions of dialogue as well as Euro-Canadian and International law.  The course is taught primarily through research and analysis of materials, discussions on Indigenous methods of resolving disputes, and through the experiential learning process.

As part of the Western Law Internship Program, Western Law supports three Debwewin summer law internships in partnership with the Ministry of Attorney General’s Indigenous Justice Division. These summer interns provide legal education and advice in Indigenous communities.

We have held a variety of co-curricular opportunities for students and faculty. We have hosted weekend Indigenous Law “Camps” at local First Nation communities, including Chippewas of the Thames and Walpole Island. Participants include faculty, JD and graduate students, and some graduate students from other faculties at Western. In collaboration with the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, we have organized joint Indigenous cultural education events focusing on issues of professional service and cultural competence when working with Indigenous patients, clients, and communities.

In terms of student-led initiatives, our students lead the LEVEL Indigenous Youth Outreach Program at Chippewas of the Thames.  The initiative not only offers programming to Indigenous youth to increase their knowledge about the justice system and their critical thinking and leadership skills, but also enhances the law student cultural humility. The program is celebrated for advancing reconciliation by “reducing alienation between the justice sector and Indigenous communities by many community leaders”.  

The Student Legal Society has two associations that focus on Indigenous peoples and initiatives: the Indigenous Students Association and Students for Truth and Reconciliation. These groups provide peer support and organize events geared at raising awareness about the experiences of Indigenous Peoples in Canada and advancing reconciliation.

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 AboriginalCrown relations. This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and antiracism.

Mandatory Course for ALL Law students: Yes

5833A Indigenous Peoples and the Law

Since the 2020-21 academic year, every second-year student has been required to take Indigenous Peoples and the Law (Law 5833A) – which is now comprised of three credits.  

This course will provide students with an introduction to Aboriginal law, Indigenous legal traditions, and the relationship between Indigenous peoples and the Crown. Students will be expected to demonstrate an understanding of important legal concepts in the area of Aboriginal law while critically reflecting on the approach Canadian law takes to resolving disputes involving Indigenous peoples. Course topics will include, but are not limited to: 

  • Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982; 
  • Aboriginal Rights; 
  • Aboriginal Title; 
  • the Duty to Consult; 
  • Treaties; 
  • the Indian Act; 
  • the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; and 
  • Assertions of Crown Sovereignty. 

This course will also provide students with an introduction to (and an examination of) Indigenous law, Indigenous constitution building, and legal pluralism. Indigenous legal traditions are not simply frozen in time but are evolving and are in the process of being revitalized, researched, and rebuilt by a number of communities and legal scholars. Some of the topics students will examine include: 

  1. the impact of colonial policies on Indigenous legal traditions; 
  2. the treatment of Indigenous legal traditions by the courts; 
  3. sources of Indigenous legal traditions; and 
  4. Anishinaabe constitutionalism. 

Students will also be asked to reflect on the importance of understanding Indigenous legal traditions as a part of their legal education. 

Other mandatory first year courses with Indigenous content:

5110: Constitutional Law

For example, in one section of Constitutional Law, there is course content regarding all five components of TRC Call to Action #28 at the very beginning of the course, in a designated three-week unit relating to Indigenous Peoples and the Constitution in the winter term, and in covering other topics (such as s. 15 of the Charter and s. 91(24) of the CA, 1867).

5120: Criminal Law

For example, in one section of Criminal Law, there is course content regarding components (3) to (5).  The class discusses the experience of Indigenous peoples with the criminal justice system, including hearing from a guest speaker from Aboriginal Legal Services. That discussion engages with elements of the substantive criminal law as well as sentencing. The class also briefly discusses the interaction between Aboriginal and Treaty Rights and the criminal law, and the ways in which such rights may limit the scope of criminal liability. Finally, the class briefly considers the ways that Indigenous law has served as a source for interpreting criminal law in some cases.

5140: Property Law

For example, in one section of Property Law, there is course content regarding components (3) to (5). The class usually spends three weeks on Aboriginal title in the winter term. This involves discussing the legal history of colonialism and the Crown’s assertion of sovereignty, practical obstacles to proving Aboriginal title, and comparisons with Indigenous conceptions of property.

Other Courses with Indigenous content

Indigenous content and perspectives, including relating to components (1) to (5) of TRC Call to Action #28, are also integrated into a wide variety of other courses.  

  • Administrative Law
  • Constitutional Law (Law 5115 002)
  • Social Policy and the Tax and Transfer System (Law 5801C)
  • Income Taxation (Law 5220A)
  • Food Law (Law 5847D)
  • International Protection of Intellectual Property Law (Law 5360D)
  • Mining Finance Speaker Series (Law 5563D)
  • Canadian Mining and Corporate Accounting in the Global South (Law 5830D)
  • Current Issues in Public Law (Law 5843D)
  • Public International Law (Law 5225A)
  • Children’s Law (Law 5410D)
  • Hate Speech in Canada (Law 5933A)
  • Racial Profiling in Policing (Law 5924A)
  • Sentencing (Law 5830A)
  • International Criminal Law (Law 5924C)
  • Conflict of Laws
  • Trusts
  • Introduction to Clinical Law
  • Advanced Clinical Studies – Criminal
1The history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools
Yes. 5833A Indigenous Peoples and the Law. See also mandatory course description above
2The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Yes. 5833A Indigenous Peoples and the Law. See also mandatory course description above
3Treaties and Aboriginal rights
Yes. 5833A Indigenous Peoples and the Law. See also mandatory course description above
4Indigenous law
Yes. 5833A Indigenous Peoples and the Law. See also mandatory course description above
5Aboriginal–Crown Relations
Yes. 5833A Indigenous Peoples and the Law. See also mandatory course description above
Land Acknowledgement:

On Western’s Office of Indigenous Initiatives – Home Page and  Western University – Home Page

Western University is located on the traditional lands of the Anishinaabek, Haudenosaunee, Lūnaapéewak and Attawandaron peoples, on lands connected with the London Township and Sombra Treaties of 1796 and the Dish with One Spoon Covenant Wampum. This land continues to be home to diverse Indigenous Peoples (First Nations, Métis and Inuit) whom we recognize as contemporary stewards of the land and vital contributors of our society.