Sept. 9, 2020

Law summer program fills gap for Indigenous students

Summer series gives students exposure to law before classes start

Indigenous laws have been in place since time immemorial. Natural laws of the land and restorative justice worked to maintain order in this country before western systems were imposed upon them.

Today, UCalgary is working toward genuine reconciliation through Indigenization of our institution, and in the Faculty of Law, Indigenous students got a chance to discover the complexities of Indigenous law and the relationship between state and Indigenous legal systems over the summer months.

In the past, incoming Indigenous students have had the opportunity to participate in a summer program at the University of Saskatchewan, where they studied property law with other Indigenous students from all over the country. This provided a valuable opportunity to meet other students and to get a sense of what to expect from law school.

When the program was cancelled due to the pandemic, members of the Faculty of Law wanted to make sure students could be exposed to the law before their first day of class.

“The idea for our summer seminar series was to make up, in some small part, for the loss of the Indigenous Law Centre Summer Program at the University of Saskatchewan,” explains assistant professor Robert Hamilton. “The law school’s Indigenous Strategy and Student Support Committee were concerned that incoming students wouldn’t have the ability to gain some exposure to the study of law before starting their courses, and that they would be missing out on a valuable chance to meet other Indigenous students from around the country.”

Summer program explored variety of topics

To address the issue, the Faculty of Law launched a five-part summer series for incoming and current Indigenous students, which included introductions to Indigenous Law and Aboriginal Title, Gladue Principles and bail, an overview of the land claims process in Canada, and a conversation about law school and legal practice.

Indigenous students from UCalgary, the Universities of Alberta and New Brunswick, and Dalhousie University were invited to participate in the online events, and faculty members and practitioners joined the sessions when topics overlapped with their research interests.

“These events have been a valuable opportunity for students like myself who appreciate the ease into the academic legal world,” says Gavin Wilkes, a first-year law student at the University of Alberta. “It has been great to be able to hear from, speak with, and connect with law professors and those working in legal fields where they work with and understand the Indigenous legal ties to the legal system. The program has given me — and surely others — the chance to go into law school feeling less intimidated by engaging in connection; especially in these distanced times.”

Gavin Wilkes of the University of Alberta

Gavin Wilkes of the University of Alberta

Students learned from leading legal scholars

Second-year UCalgary student Amelia Harman feels the same about the program, adding that it provided her the opportunity to learn from leading legal scholars and practitioners about interesting key topics in the areas of Aboriginal and Indigenous law. “I was able to engage in meaningful post-lecture discussions about these topics. The lecture series has definitely enriched my law school experience.” 

Amelia Harman

Amelia Harman is a second-year student at UCalgary Law.

While it is unclear if the program at the University of Saskatchewan will return next year, being able to provide an interim solution was important for Calgary’s law school, to allow students an early look at some of the key legal topics they will explore, and to make valuable connections with other students and legal practitioners.

“Several participants have indicated that the sessions have been a great chance to learn about a variety of topics, and they have been able to make connections with students at other law schools. So all in all, it has been a win for everyone involved,” says Hamilton.  

ii’ taa’poh’to’p, the University of Calgary’s Indigenous Strategy, is a commitment to deep evolutionary transformation by reimagining ways of knowing, doing, connecting, and being. Walking parallel paths together, ‘in a good way,’ UCalgary is moving toward genuine reconciliation and Indigenization.

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