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Val Napoleon: A Leader in Indigenous Law Revitalization & Reconciliation

Tansi Nîtôtemtik,

This week, we are recognizing Indigenous leaders and legal professionals who are at the forefront of Indigenous law and reconciliation, and the important work they do to advance Indigenous law and legal issues. Today’s post is about Dr. Val Napoleon.

Val Napoleon is an Indigenous woman from Treaty 8 in north east British Columbia. [1] She is a member of Saulteau First Nation, and “an adopted member of the Gitanyow (Gitksan) House of Luuxhon, Ganada (Frog) Clan.” [2]

Val Napoleon has been a leader in the field of Indigenous law for decades. [3] Her professional biography is extensive, and she is not only a leader in Indigenous law, but also a law professor, an activist, an author, and an artist; with many published academic and creative works. [4]

She has created and taught courses in areas such as Indigenous feminist legal studies, self-government, and restorative justice, to name a few, and established the Indigenous Law Research Unit (ILRU). [5] The ILRU “is an academic research unit dedicated to revitalizing Indigenous laws.” [6] The ILRU partners and collaborates with Indigenous communities, and designs academic curricula, workshops, and other resources, to deepen engagement with Indigenous laws, and to educate future generations of legal professionals. [7]

Dr. Napoleon is also a co-founder, director, and teacher in the world’s first Indigenous law degree program at the University of Victoria, in which students graduate with the two professional degrees of a Juris Doctor (JD) and a Juris Indigenarum Doctor (JID). [8]

This is just a small taste of Val Napoleon’s many contributions and achievements, and how she continues to advance Indigenous law, and uplift Indigenous voices and the wellbeing of Indigenous peoples.

Her work also advances various Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action, and progresses reconciliation efforts. For example, her work as a law professor and her creation of Indigenous-based law classes advance Call to Action #27, which calls for cultural competency training for lawyers, and Call to Action #28, which calls for law students to take a course about Indigenous peoples and the law. [9] Her contributions to the revitalization of Indigenous laws facilitate Call to Action #42, which is a call for the recognition and implementation of Indigenous justice systems. [10]

Additionally, her work in the creation and implementation of the ILRU advances Call to Action #50, which is a call for the “establishment of Indigenous law institutes for the development, use, and understanding of Indigenous laws and access to justice in accordance with the unique cultures of [Indigenous] peoples in Canada.” [11] Val Napoleon’s work contributes to many Calls to Action, which is just one way that she continues to further reconciliation, and build the strength and wellbeing of Indigenous communities.

Val Napoleon’s work is powerful and inspiring, and sets an example for us all when it comes to reconciliation. Life can be busy and full of distractions, but reconciliation is something that should be on all of our minds, and something we continue to do. Whether it’s big or small, each action towards reconciliation is meaningful, and makes a positive difference. This week, take an extra minute to recognize and appreciate the hard work and dedication of leaders like Val Napoleon, and to reflect on your part in reconciliation.

Until next time,

Team Reconcili-ACTION YEG

[1] “Faculty: Dr. Val Napoleon” (2023), online: University of Victoria <>.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Val Napoleon” (2023), online: Indspire <>.

[4]“Faculty Directory: Val Napoleon” (2023), online: University of Victoria <>.

[5] Supra note 3.

[6] “Indigenous Law Research Unit: A research unit at the University of Victoria” online: UVIC <>.

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Joint Degree Program in Canadian Common Law and Indigenous Legal Orders (JD/JID)” (2023), online: University of Victoria <>.

[9]“Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action” (2015) at 3, online (pdf): <>.

[10] Ibid at 4.

[11] Ibid at 5-6.

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