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University of Victoria scholar Borrows wins national Killam Prize

Wednesday, May 03, 2017 @ 11:51 AM | By John Chunn

For his substantial scholarship and commitment to furthering our knowledge about indigenous legal traditions, John Borrows, holder of the Canada research chair in indigenous law at the University of Victoria, was named the 2017 Killam Prize winner in social sciences by the Canada Council for the Arts.

The prestigious prize honours outstanding career achievements of eminent Canadian researchers, whether in industry, government agencies or universities.

“John’s scholarship is leaving a transformative legacy within both indigenous and non-indigenous worlds,” said James Tully, professor emeritus of political science, law and indigenous governance and UVic’s first Killam Prize winner in 2010. 

As a global leader in indigenous law, Borrows’ ideas helped shape the recommendations of both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. He has led engagement with indigenous legal traditions in Canada and internationally, bringing to light some of the injustices, inequalities and conditions of indigenous people. His scholarship has been cited by the Supreme Court of Canada.

In conjunction with the Waterloo-based Centre for International Governance Innovation, he’s researching the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, assessing indigenous dispute settlement systems and the protection of religious, cultural and land rights in international law.

In addition to teaching generations of students at his home base in UVic’s law school, he has served as visiting professor in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand.

Borrows’ scope of research ranges across indigenous sovereignty and governance, constitutional law, land stewardship, municipal frameworks, treaties, hunting and fishing, gambling, residential schools and violence against indigenous women.

One of the goals of his research, said Borrows, is to change a misunderstanding held by some who think there’s no such thing as indigenous law: either indigenous people never had legal systems because they were primitive in some respect; or if they had them, they’re broken and they’re gone or irrelevant in a modern context. In oral and visual cultures, law flows from the people and from the natural world and is reflected in the artistic and physical world, explains Borrows, who is Anishinaabe/Ojibway and a member of the Chippewa of the Nawash First Nation.

Killam Prize winners receive a $100,000 prize and will be honoured at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, May 30.