Our team comes to this work as a community of Indigenous and settler scholars, lawyers, professors, and researchers with diverse backgrounds and experience working with Indigenous communities. We are committed to building and maintaining the relationships we develop through our work to support the recovery, revitalization, and re-articulation of Indigenous laws.
Director: Dr. Val Napoleon
Val Napoleon is from northeast British Columbia (Treaty 8) and a member of Saulteau First Nation. She is also an adopted member of the Gitanyow (Gitksan) House of Luuxhon, Ganada (Frog) Clan. As Director and co-founder of ILRU, Val is responsible for the vision and direction of ILRU, and bridging the work of ILRU with University of Victoria’s Faculty of Law and beyond through teaching, writing and public engagement. She is also a principal investigator on ILRU’s projects.
Val is also a research chair at the University of Victoria Faculty of Law. The title of Val’s research chair is Law Foundation Chair of Indigenous Justice and Governance. Prior to joining the Faculty of Law at UVic in 2012, Val was cross-appointed with the faculties of Native Studies and Law at the University of Alberta. Val’s current research focuses on Indigenous legal traditions (Indigenous legal theories, pedagogies, law and precedent, legal institutions, and legal research methodologies), Indigenous feminism, citizenship, self-determination, and governance. Some of her major initiatives include the JD/JID (joint JD and Indigenous law degree) program and co-founding the Indigenous Law Research Unit. She has also taught and published on aboriginal legal issues, Indigenous law and legal theories, Indigenous feminisms, governance, critical restorative justice, oral traditions, and Indigenous legal research methodologies. I also teach property law.
See Val’s full bio.
Associate Director: Dr. Rebecca Johnson
Rebecca Johnson is a settler born in Treaty 7 Territory. She spent—and continues to spend—her summers in Secwepemcúl’ecw. As Associate Director of ILRU, Dr. Rebecca Johnson is responsible for the vision and direction of ILRU, and bridging the work of ILRU with University of Victoria’s Faculty of Law and beyond through teaching, writing and public engagement. She is also a principal investigator on ILRU’s projects.
Rebecca joined the UVic Faculty of Law in 2001, after 6 years on the Faculty at the University of New Brunswick. Before that, she clerked for Madame Justice Claire L’Heureux-Dubé at the Supreme Court of Canada, and completed her LLM and SJD at the University of Michigan. The work there resulted in her award-winning book, Taxing Choices: the Intersection of Class, Gender, Parenthood and the Law. Her research interests are marked by interdisciplinarity, and include storied pedagogy, law-and-film, Indigenous legal methodologies, judicial dissent, the economic imaginary, and critical feminisms. (See Rebecca’s UVic Faces of Research video.) With an abiding interest in Canadian law-and-film scholarship, she has written on such topics as same-sex family formation, colonialism, dissent, mothers and babies in prison, cinematic violence, the Western, affect and emotion, and Inuit cinema. She has also worked on the development of the TRC-inspired blog #ReconciliationSyllabus. Professor Johnson has taught courses in Criminal Law, Business Associations, Law-and-Film, Legal Theory, Legal Method, Legal Process, Law Legislation & Policy, Constitutional law, Civil Liberties, and Feminist Advocacy.
See Rebecca’s full bio.
Associate Director: Dr. Darcy Lindberg
Darcy Lindberg is mixed-rooted Plains Cree, with his family coming from maskwâcîs (Samson Cree Nation) in Alberta and the Battleford-area in Saskatchewan.
He holds a BA from the University of Alberta, and a JD, LLM and PhD from UVic. He has taught courses at the University of Alberta on constitutional law, Indigenous legal traditions, treaties, and Indigenous environmental legal orders. Darcy was called to the British Columbia and Yukon bars in 2014, and practiced in the Yukon Territory with Davis LLP. His research focuses on nêhiyaw law, ecological governance through Indigenous legal orders, gender and Indigenous ceremonies, comparative approaches in nêhiyaw and Canadian constitutionalism, and Indigenous treaty making.
See Darcy’s full bio.
Research Director: Tara Williamson
Tara Williamson is a member of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation and was raised in Gaabishkigamaag (Swan Lake, Manitoba). She holds degrees in social work, law, and Indigenous governance and has been a professor and instructor at Fleming College, Trent University, Toronto Metropolitan University/First Nations Technical Institute and the University of Winnipeg. As an independent consultant, she has worked with and for Indigenous communities and organizations at the local, regional, provincial, and national level. Tara is a Research Fellow with the Yellowhead Institute as well as a professional writer and musician.
Research Director: Jessica Asch
Jessica Asch grew up in Treaty 6 Territory, where her parents settled in the 1970s, and has lived as an uninvited guest in unceded lək̓ʷəŋən Territory for 25 years. Jessica has worked as a lawyer, researcher, teacher, community organizer, and policy analyst in the public, non-profit and private sectors. After receiving her LL.B. from the University of Victoria, Jessica clerked at the Supreme Court of British Columbia and was called to the B.C. Bar in 2010. She practiced state law and worked as a policy analyst before joining the Indigenous Law Research Unit (ILRU) in 2013 as a researcher and editor. She became ILRU’s Research Director in 2015, overseeing its collaborative, community-based research and public legal education projects, and Co-Research Director alongside Tara Williamson in 2021. Jessica has led and supervised Indigenous law revitalization and implementation projects on questions relating to citizenship, gender, human rights, families, governance, dispute resolution, child welfare, lands, resources and water, and has presented and published on this work. She also facilitates workshops, teaches, and presents on Indigenous law revitalization research, methods, and practice to law students, legal professionals, and the broader public.
Coordinator: Brooke Edmonds
Brooke Edmonds is of Te Whānau ā Apanui, Ngāti Porou, and mixed-European descent. She is from Aotearoa/New Zealand, and has spent the last 15 years in Kaska Dena and Tr’ondëk Hwëchin territories in the Yukon, and lək̓ʷəŋən Territory, where she graduated with honours from the University of Victoria in the field of Art History and Visual Studies. Brooke has worked within municipal government and with Indigenous communities, including the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, with whom she co-coordinated Moosehide Gathering 2018 and continues relationships with today. In 2019 she joined ILRU as the Coordinator, where she works collaboratively with the ILRU team, community partners, and the UVic community to facilitate ILRU’s vision and goals as they relate to community-based research and public legal education projects. She is ILRU’s lead on outreach, communications and publications, and also facilitates workshops and presentations as part of ILRU’s projects and in the broader community.
Researcher: Cheyenne Arnold-Cunningham
Cheyenne is Métis with Métis roots in St. Albert and Manitou Sahkahigan (Lac Ste. Anne), Alberta. She also has mixed European ancestry. She was born and raised in Ontario and is now an uninvited guest, living, working, and learning on the traditional territory of the Ts’uubaa-asatx, Ditidaht, and Quw’utsun peoples. Cheyenne is a law graduate from the University of Windsor with experience in both solicitor and litigation-based work within Canada’s “Aboriginal Law”. However, her passion is focused on better understanding and advancing Indigenous laws and traditional legal orders of individual and distinct communities. She was called to the Ontario Bar in June 2020, and was called to the British Columbia Bar in January 2021.
Researcher: Ellen Campbell
Ellen Campbell is a settler with Scottish, Norse, French, English, and German ancestry living as an uninvited guest on MÁLEXEȽ and Quw’utsun territories. Ellen grew up on the shores of Zhooniya Zaagiigan (Lake Simcoe) and Chi’Nibiish (Lake Ontario), in Michi Saagiig territory, so-called Mission Creek in syilx territory, and Showe’luqun (Shawnigan Lake) in Quw’utsun and MÁLEXEȽ territories. Ellen is an artist, researcher, and lawyer. They hold a law degree with a concentration in environmental law and sustainability, and a Master’s degree analyzing and criticizing colonialism in conservation and animal law enforcement by non-profits.
Their work at ILRU has focused on research on water laws; child and caregiver nurturance laws; curriculum development; workshop facilitation; and legal design focusing on upholding the role of art in law. They are a member and volunteer with the Cowichan Stewardship Roundtable, Radical Action for Migrants in Agriculture Isla, and the National American Association for Critical Animal Studies, among others.
Researcher: Shannon Snow
Shannon is of mixed background, belonging to Inuit families spanning from upper Lake Melville to the central coast of Labrador (St. Michael’s Bay). They are a member of the NunatuKavut community in Labrador, and was raised in St. John’s, Newfoundland (Ktaqmkuk). She is also of Scottish and English ancestry.
Shannon holds common law (J.D.) and civil law (B.C.L) degrees from McGill University, where they focused their studies on indigenous legal traditions and revitalization. Prior to working with ILRU, Shannon practiced state environmental and organizational law at a firm in Tiohtià:ke (Montréal). Shannon has also mobilized around housing and language rights in the communities in which she’s lived. They newly live as a guest in lək̓ʷəŋən territory.
Researcher: Mercediese Dawson
Mercediese is a member of the Ditidaht First Nation (Nitinaht Lake) which is part of the Nuu-chah-nulth territories on Vancouver Island. She also comes from Liǧʷiɫdax̌ʷ (We Wai Kum) and Musgamagw Dzawada‘enuxw on her father’s side which is part of the Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw nations. Mercediese grew up in her home communities as well as c̓išaaʔatḥ and Hupač̓asatḥ territory, also known as Port Alberni. She currently is a guest in Lekwungen territory and has been for over ten years.
Mercediese has an undergrad in social work with an Indigenous specialization. She also holds common law (JD) and Indigenous law (JID) degrees from the University of Victoria, where she was part of the second cohort to ever complete the new JID program. Mercediese has a lot of community work experience and has spent the past few years working for Urban Indigenous communities in lək̓ʷəŋən territory. She spent a summer working for South Island Indigenous Authority where she helped assist with the new jurisdiction under Bill C-92. Mercediese is passionate about advancing Indigenous Law and working with communities to help empower and uplift her people in the process. During her time in the JID program, she thrived on working with various Indigenous stories and being able to use her creativity during her field school placements.
Financial and Reporting Facilitation Officer: Heather Chestnutt
As the ILRU’s Financial and Reporting Officer, Heather Chestnutt is responsible for supporting the financial administration of our project funds. She also facilitates the development of research applications and assists with grant reporting.
Heather is a settler from xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Territory.
We train students, the upcoming generation of legal professionals, through research placements at our unit. Students have the opportunity to engage in research, writing and community-minded—and led—relationship development in a number of legal traditions.