Osgoode Hall Law School adopts new Indigenous and Aboriginal Law Requirement


York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School will introduce an Indigenous and Aboriginal Law Requirement in its Juris Doctor (JD) degree program starting this September.

The new degree requirement is aligned with Osgoode’s commitment to reconciliation, one of five priorities outlined in the Access Osgoode Strategic Plan 2017-2020. It is also Osgoode’s response to the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Call to Action #28 that called upon Canadian law schools to require all law students to take a course in Aboriginal people and the law.

Lorne Sossin
Lorne Sossin

Osgoode Dean Lorne Sossin hailed the new Indigenous and Aboriginal Law Requirement as “a genuine watershed moment for legal education at Osgoode and reflects the engagement and commitment of our whole community – with lots of important work and reconciliation discussions to come.”

The new degree requirement was unanimously adopted by Osgoode Faculty Council on March 16 and approved on April 4 by York’s Academic Standards, Curriculum and Pedagogy Committee. It will mean that all graduates of Osgoode’s JD program must complete at least one course that engages in a substantial way with all three of the following:

  • Indigenous law (law that stems from Indigenous communities);
  • Aboriginal law (non-Indigenous law, including Canadian law, as it pertains to Indigenous people); and
  • Aspects of professionalism and/or practice skills related to serving Indigenous clients, which may include intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights and anti-racism.

There are a number of courses in the current Osgoode curriculum that students will be able to choose from to fulfill the Indigenous and Aboriginal Law Requirement, according to Signa Daum Shanks, assistant professor and inaugural director of Indigenous Outreach at Osgoode.

Daum Shanks is one of the faculty and student members of the Academic Policy and Planning Committee’s Indigenization Subcommittee who spent the past two years studying the role of Indigenous issues in the Osgoode JD curriculum to bring forward the proposal for a new degree requirement.

“The two topics of Indigenous law and Aboriginal law have increased in such rapid scope that it is unimaginable to think a lawyer can go without learning about these subjects,” said Daum Shanks. “As we invite our community and elsewhere to become more exposed to the issues these areas contain, I’m so proud that Osgoode recognizes their relevance within its curriculum’s basic structure.”

Osgoode Hall Law School has a long history of commitment to Indigenous and Aboriginal law studies, building relationships with Indigenous communities, and recruiting Indigenous students.

The law school’s Intensive Program in Aboriginal Lands, Resources and Governments was established in 1994. In 2014, Osgoode’s first annual Anishinaabe Law Camp was held at Neyaashiinigmiing (Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation) on Georgian Bay. It brings Indigenous and non-Indigenous students and faculty members together with elders and knowledge keepers to learn about Anishinaabe law and Indigenous legal tradition.

The law school welcomed Daum Shanks, who is Métis, as its first director of Indigenous Outreach, and Associate Professor Deborah McGregor, a member of Whitefish River First Nation, as Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Environmental Justice. As well, Associate Professor Karen Drake, a Métis from northern Ontario, recently became part of Osgoode’s faculty and is also a commissioner with the Ontario Human Rights Commission. In addition, the law school will hire a coordinator of Indigenous and Reconciliation Initiatives this year.