Actions and Commitments

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

York University – Osgood Hall Law School

January 31, 2024

Osgoode Hall Law School, founded in 1889, is among the oldest, largest and most distinguished law schools in Canada. Our commitment to excellence, professionalism, ethics and experiential education, along with our tradition of leadership in legal education and research, make us a truly outstanding law school.

Our internationally recognized, full-time faculty members are the strongest in the country. They are joined by a large group of adjunct professors, primarily practitioners drawn from the Toronto Bar, who offer a relevant, practical perspective for students. Together, they promote a positive, inclusive and supportive learning environment through interaction inside and outside the classroom.

Our program is unparalleled in Canada in terms of range, coverage and diversity of perspectives. We lead the way in creating innovative learning opportunities and offering students the flexibility to chart their own path based on their unique interests and goals.

Faculty of Law Commitment to Truth and Reconciliation

Strategic Plan 2021-2025

One of six key focus areas in our 2021-2025 strategic plan is “Advancing Reconciliation and Justice”.

Take a leadership role in furthering reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, advancing justice for marginalized communities and addressing the broader challenges of systemic injustice.

Strategic Goals:

  1. Assess current efforts in Indigenization and decolonization with a view to reinforcing those initiatives that are working well and considering lessons learned for other contexts.
  2. Broaden diversity among Osgood’s tenure-stream faculty.
  3. Maintain our commitment to diversity in the JD and graduate programs, including racialized and Indigenous students and those with disabilities as well as students from challenging socioeconomic circumstances.
  4. Consider how the law school’s curriculum can effectively direct attentions to various forms of injustice, including socioeconomic injustice.

Priority Initiatives

  1. Complete the design of the KGN Transition (from the Anishinaabe phrase kendaasiwin gichi naakinegewin), a support program for newly admitted Indigenous students.
  2. Consider the establishment of an Indigenous Law Institute and investigate funding opportunities for this initiative.
  3. Develop an Elder-in-Residence program at Osgoode.
  4. Expand the focus on lawyering and racism, including anti-Black racism, in the first-year curriculum.
  5. Develop a framework to4 ensure the law school receives ongoing advice on equity initiatives.

This strategic priority commits us to advancing existing Indigenization and decolonization efforts at the Law School, and to developing a number of initiatives and program. 

Commitment to Indigenization

  • Establishment of Osgoode’s Office of Indigenous and Reconciliation Initiatives in October 2018 led by the Program Manager & Special Advisor, Indigenous Initiatives & Reconciliation, Academic Success Mentor Lead, and an Academic Success Mentor.
  • Development of the Indigenous and Aboriginal Law Requirement (IALR), which, as of fall 2019, requires all graduating students to have taken one of a number of courses, offered in all three years of law school, which significantly expose students to Indigenous perspectives on law. Although this graduation requirement is new, our school has long been an active centre of research and learning with respect to Indigenous peoples and the law.
  • Recognizing graduating Indigenous students with a separate and additional honour ceremony on the same day as Convocation since 2016. 
  • Supporting and highlighting the work of the current Indigenous faculty, Karen Drake, Jeffery Hewitt, and Deb McGregor.  
  • Annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation event, with speakers such as retired Justice Harry Laforme, Delia Opekokew, and Fred Kelly.  
  • Annual Anishinaabe Law Camp held over 4 days each September (since 2014) at Neyaashiinigmiing (Cape Croker) in collaboration with the Chippewas of Nawash, Professors John Borrows, and Lindsey Borrows
  • A second 4-day Indigenous camp established in 2018 in collaboration with the Rama First Nation, and Professor Jeffery Hewitt.
  • Debwewin Summer Internship program in collaboration with the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General.
  • Establishment of the Intensive Program in Indigenous Lands, Resources, and Governance in 1994. 
  • Programming in Skennen’kó:wa Gamig (formerly Hart House) as a stand-alone centre for Indigenous community life at York University and other pan-University collaborations. 
  • Augmenting available funding sources for Osgoode Indigenous faculty, including the CRC in Indigenous Environmental Justice, as well as Osgoode’s Indigenous Students Association (OISA) for community projects and events, and proactive outreach for the recruitment of Indigenous faculty, staff and students.
  • In 2020, we implemented our Indigenous academic success program, Kendaasowin Gchi-Naakinigewin (hereinafter KGN) which means “The Art of Learning Law” in Anishinaabemowin to support newly admitted Indigenous students.  Some key components of KGN include providing access to many amazing Indigenous mentors, an exceptionally low teacher/student ratio, and a focus to cultural safety and anti-colonialism.  

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: Yes. 4 Credits

Since 2019, Osgoode has implemented an Indigenous and Aboriginal law graduation requirement for the JD program. All students must complete at least one course focused on Indigenous and Aboriginal law, including the professional practices and skills required to serve Indigenous clients fairly and effectively. The students have a choice of which course to take among the following:  

Indigenous Peoples and Canadian Law – Lecture – 4-5 sections per year

This substantive law course explores the relationships between Indigenous legal orders, the common law and Canadian law, in the context of the practical complexities involved in litigating Aboriginal and Treaty rights cases. Topics may include, but are not limited to: 

  • Indigenous laws and governance systems; 
  • intersocietal law; 
  • history of treaties and treaty relationships; 
  • pre-existing Indigenous sovereignty and assumed Crown sovereignty; 
  • the honour of the Crown; 
  • the colonial doctrines of discovery and terra nullius; 
  • settler-colonialism and Indigenous resurgence. 

The course will provide a survey of key procedural and substantive elements (e.g. pleadings,
expert witnesses, Elder evidence, argument and remedies) from the perspective of a practitioner working exclusively in this area of law on behalf of First Nation clients and communities. This course consists of weekly lectures and in-class discussions. This is a multi section course taught by practitioners and academics. 

Indigenous Perspectives and Realities – Seminar – 1 to 2 sections per year 

This is an experiential learning course. Students are expected to participate in all aspects 
of the course, including lectures, class discussions, land-based and experiential learning activities. Course delivery includes, guest lectures, videos, podcasts, story work and news stories drawn from real world examples. Students are required to complete assigned experiential activities on their own, wherever they are located.  

Comparative Law: Indigenous Legal Traditions – Seminar – 1 to 2 sections per year 

We will be guided by Anishinaabe pedagogy, to the extent possible. Classroom discussions will be structured using a talking circle. The teaching format may also include open discussions, in-class exercises, problem-solving, videos, and visits with knowledge keepers or elders. Our focus will be on an Anishinaabe constitutional order. A basic premise of this seminar is that to understand Anishinaabe law, we must first understand the worldview and the constitutional order that underlies Anishinaabe law. We will draw out Anishinaabe constitutional principles from Anishinaabe stories, while being guided by the works of Anishinaabe elders, knowledge keepers, and scholars. The principles that form an Anishinaabe constitutional order will be contrasted with the principles that inform the normative framework underlying the non-Indigenous Canadian Constitution and legal system. 

Rights & Reconciliation – Seminar – 1 to 2 sections per year

The teaching format for this seminar will include instructor lectures, full class and small group discussions, and interaction with guests who are leaders in the field of Indigenous rights law. The relationship between Indigenous communities and Canadian legal structures is complex and one of the most rapidly evolving and interesting areas of Canadian law. Today, much of the discourse about Indigenous communities and Canadian law is framed through a narrative of “reconciliation.” Why are we talking about “reconciliation”? How did this become the framework for looking at issues affecting Indigenous communities? What does “reconciliation” really mean for lawyers dealing with Indigenous communities’ issues in the Canadian legal system? The seminar will introduce students to the history of how Indigenous communities have been affected by interaction with and key relationships with Canadian law. Students will have the opportunity to critically analyze the framework of “reconciliation” by looking at Canadian legal system impacts on Indigenous communities’ relationship with Indigenous lands and resources, families, governance systems, and legal orders.

1The history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools
Yes. This content is taught in the beginning of the above courses, as this content is imperative to Aboriginal and Indigenous law.
2The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Yes. The UNDRIPA is mandatory content for Aboriginal and Indigenous law, and so included in all of the four courses that we offer to fulfill Osgoode’s mandatory Indigenous and Aboriginal requirement.
3Treaties and Aboriginal rights
Yes. Covered by all four courses that can be taken to fulfill the mandatory Indigenous and Aboriginal requirement.  
4Indigenous law
Yes. Covered by all four courses that can be taken to fulfill the mandatory Indigenous and Aboriginal requirement.  
5Aboriginal–Crown Relations
Yes. Covered by all four courses that can be taken to fulfill the mandatory Indigenous and Aboriginal requirement.  
Land Acknowledgement

York University developed this land acknowledgement in consultation with the Indigenous Education Council.  However, the Office of Indigenous Initiatives at Osgoode, supports staff, students and faculty in developing well researched and personalized acknowledgements.

We recognize that many Indigenous Nations have longstanding relationships with the territories upon which York University campuses are located that precede the establishment of York University. York University acknowledges its presence on the traditional territory of many Indigenous Nations. The area known as Tkaronto [Tig-ar-on-toe] has been care taken by the Anishinabek [Nish-na-bek] Nation, the Haudenosaunee [Ho-dee-no-sho-nee] Confederacy, and the Huron-Wendat. It is now home to many First Nation, Inuit and Métis communities. We acknowledge the current treaty holders, the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. This territory is subject of the Dish with One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, an agreement to peaceably share and care for the Great Lakes region.

All content has been submitted to the respective faculty for validation to ensure accuracy and currency as of the time of posting. York University Osgood Hall Law School did respond.

Managing Editor: Douglas Sinclair: Publisher, Indigenous Watchdog
Lead Researcher, Timothy Maton: Ph.D