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A new generation of Indigenous legal scholars will be trained at the University of Victoria, which announced the expansion of its law school to house Canada’s new National Centre for Indigenous Laws.

The federal and B.C. governments and the Law Foundation of B.C. are contributing $27.1 million to fund the expansion for the centre.

It will become home to the world’s first joint degree in Indigenous legal orders and Canadian common law.

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University president Jamie Cassels said the Indigenous law school will be essential in reworking the legal fabric of Canada.

“The research and teaching that will occur at the centre will have a transformational impact on individuals and communities across Canada, and indeed, around the world,” he said at a news conference on Thursday. “It will play a vital role in helping to grow a more just and inclusive Canada.”

The 2,440-square-metre addition to the Anne and Murray Fraser Building at the university will use Coast Salish designs, signage and public art, and reflect the law school’s long-standing relations with the Songhees, Esquimalt and WSANEC peoples in the Victoria area, Cassels said.

The national centre will be home to the first Indigenous law program in the world to combine the intensive study of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous law, he said.

Prof. Val Napoleon, the university’s Law Foundation chair of Indigenous justice and governance, said the school’s expansion represents a justice sanctuary for Indigenous people.

“It’s the idea of sanctuary that I want to apply as a metaphor for this building,” she said. “A metaphor for our teaching of Indigenous laws and for our students. That’s what this physical structure represents.”

Melanie Mark, B.C.’s minister of advanced education, said the school will produce a generation of Indigenous legal scholars, students she called “briefcase warriors.”

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The minister became emotional during the announcement, saying she couldn’t help but reflect on the struggles of Indigenous Peoples to assert and have their rights recognized. Mark, who is Indigenous, said the development of the law centre was historic.

“We can make change when we work together and we can make change when we invest in structures like this,” she said. “Think about government policies that invested in creating residential schools, and today in 2020, we are investing in a national centre for Indigenous laws.”

B.C. is contributing $13 million to the expansion, while the federal government will provide $9.1 million and the Law Foundation of B.C. will spend $5 million.

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