Canadian Lawyer

September 2019

The most widely read magazine for Canadian lawyers

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Page 29 of 55

PEOPLE CROSS EXAMINED 30 DR. VAL NAPOLEON is an associate professor and Law Foundation Professor of Aboriginal Justice and Governance at the University of Victoria. She co-founded the Indigenous Law Research Unit and the Joint Degree Program in Canadian Common Law and Indigenous Legal Orders JD/JID that launched last September. In June, she was honoured with a Lexpert Zenith award for the latter achievement. She spoke to Canadian Lawyer about her beginnings, her work and her passions. Canadian Lawyer: Tell me about yourself; what drew you to your present career path? Val Napoleon: I'm from northeast B.C., from Saulteau First Nation [Cree], but I'm also an adopted member of the Gitanyow [northernmost Gitksan community] House of Luuxhon, Ganada (Frog) Clan. As a grandmother, I went to law school and took my doctorate in law. There are two stories there: one is, my daughter got preg- nant, and I wanted to say wise things to my grandchild. One thing I wanted to say most of all was, if you want to do something, you've just got to go and do it; no one will do it for you. I'd applied to law school in my early Research Unit." We kept working at it, and now it's a real thing, a going concern. Earlier I taught at the University of Alberta; I was cross-appointed to the Faculty of Native Studies and the law school before coming to Victoria, where I have an endowed chair through the Law Foundation of B.C. I'm the director of the Indigenous Law Research Unit, and the Indigenous Law Degree Program (JID). It's a combined JID/ JD program. (See sidebar.) In 2001, I was called to the bar of B.C. and I maintained that membership until I'd been teaching for a while. VAL NAPOLEON: LEGAL SCHOLAR, FEMINIST, CREE Val Napoleon of B.C.'s Saulteau First Nation was a grandmother when she began law school, wanting to set an example; today she is co-founder of the world's first Indigenous law degree program twenties, and I was accepted but didn't go. Life happened. I had worked in education, social services and justice projects, but what I saw was that older Indigenous women disappeared. And a law degree is a really good driver's licence in the world. I became a member of the Law Society of B.C. and found that it was not so much the practice of law I found interesting but the research and theory. Research was not being done the way I wanted; there was Hadley Friedland, Renée McBeth [Beausoleil] and myself at law school. Eventually, the [Victoria] law school gave us a sign, "Indigenous Law "I learned that I have a responsibility to learn, that I can challenge any ideas, that . . . I have an intellectual life — and we all do." Napoleon is also a painter, and her jet-black feathered subjects wear little kerchiefs. "I paint grandmother ravens; they're tricksters, and they're born and reborn of Indigenous feminist consciousness, and they're female, because . . . the way tricksters are talked about is as if they're only male. And they're old, because there are so many stereotypes about older Indigenous women. So, they're grandmother tricksters, and they're kickass! . . . We sell raven cards as part of our fundraising for the [Indigenous Legal] Research Unit. It's the academic version of a bake sale." PAINTING AS PASSION: GRANDMOTHER TRICKSTER RAVENS

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