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Akitsiraq Law Program

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The graduation of law students from the Akitsiraq Law Program directly addresses commitments made to the Inuit people through the agreement on self-government between the Canadian and Nunavut governments. The agreement’s conditions call for the territorial government to build self-governing capacity. The Akitsiraq law graduates greatly enhance the territory’s ability to achieve this goal.

One of the priorities within the main policy framework of the Nunavut government is to provide the Inuit with job training at all levels. The Akitsiraq Law Program accomplished this by training lawyers.

Akitsiraq means “to strike out disharmony and wrongdoing and to render justice.”

The idea for the program came from a group of judges, court workers, legal interpreters, Inuit bureaucrats, lawyers and college instructors in the territory. Two of the program organizing committee members were UVic law students who had spent time in Nunavut, one on a co-op work placement with the Nunavut court of justice.

In 1999, a proposal by the Akitsiraq Law School Society for an Arctic law school was presented to law schools in Canada. The University of Victoria, quick to see the potential of this innovative approach to legal education, agreed to be a partner in the project.

Since most of the students did not enter the program directly from post-secondary studies, the usual three-year law program was extended to four years to provide additional time for students to develop legal and critical thinking skills. Their studies included the mandatory first-year law curriculum, 29 units of upper year course work, integrated co-op style work/training opportunities, and courses in traditional Inuit law, the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and Inuktitut language training.

The students were taught by Inuit elders and faculty members from UVic law as well as professors from five other Canadian law schools in Iqaluit at the Nunatta Campus of Nunavut Arctic College.

The government of Nunavut, the federal department of justice, Inuit organizations and the RCMP provided core funding for the program.

Additional funding from the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation and other donors provided financial support to students and curriculum enrichment through travel grants and other assistance, especially the elder-in-residence aspect of the program.

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