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Indigenous lawyer Val Napoleon gets UNBC honorary degree

Napoleon established Indigenous Law Research Unit at UVic
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Dr. Val Napoleon, an Indigenous lawyer, academic and researcher who co-established the first-in-the-world Indigenous Law Degree program at the University of Victoria, is slated to receive an honorary doctor of laws degree during the 2021 virtual convocation at the University of Northern British Columbia on June 25 at 9:30 a.m.

Dr. Napoleon is Cree from Saulteau First Nation and an adopted member of the Gitanyow (Gitxsan) nation. She is a proud grandmother of four grandsons.

She co-developed and co-established the first-in-the-world Indigenous Law Degree Program (JID/JD) at UVic in 2018. Students earn two law degrees over four years, an Indigenous law degree and a common law degree. The third cohort began in September 2020, and the fourth cohort joins UVic in September 2021.

“I am from northern B.C. where I have spent so much of my working life,” Napoleon said. “This honorary degree is a recognition from the north and of northern people so it really touches my heart. I am hoping that children, young adults, grandmothers, everyone – from every part of northern B.C. – are inspired to take up further education and that the rest of us and our institutions make this possible!”

In 2012, Dr. Napoleon established the Indigenous Law Research Unit (ILRU), a dedicated academic research centre housed in the Faculty of Law at UVic. The ILRU partners with Indigenous communities across Canada to substantively articulate and rebuild Indigenous law and legal processes (e.g., human rights, harms and injuries, dispute management, lands and resources, water, and marine management, gender, and justice).

Dr. Napoleon is also an accomplished researcher and professor. She publishes and teaches in areas of Indigenous legal traditions and methodologies, Indigenous legal theories, Indigenous feminisms and gender, intellectual property and oral histories, restorative justice, legal pluralism, aboriginal legal issues, citizenship, and governance. She teaches transsystemic property law (Gitxsan and common law).

Dr. Napoleon received her Bachelor of Laws degree from UVic in 2001 (as a grandmother) and followed that with her PhD in 2009, also at UVic.