The Ring

New Trudeau Scholar seeks change for Indigenous peoples

Wed, 2014-05-28 12:32

Mills. Credit: UVic Photo Services
Mills. Credit: UVic Photo Services

UVic Law student Aaron Mills’ doctoral work, which explores conflicting legal orders and the workings of contemporary colonialism, has earned him substantial praise and cemented his position as a leading scholar on Canadian constitutionalism and Indigenous law.

Mills is a Vanier scholar and a former Ivy League Fulbright scholar. This week, he was handed yet another honour when he was named a Trudeau scholar—one of only 14 given out this year.

On May 27, 2014, the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation made the much-anticipated announcement of the winners of the most prestigious doctoral award for the social sciences and humanities in Canada.

Mills is currently working towards a PhD in Law and Society at UVic with his dissertation, Riding Mishibizhiw’s Waves: A Theory of Anishinaabe Constitutionalism.

Like many great scholars, his work has been inspired by his own background. Mills is a Bear Clan Anishinaabe from Couchiching First Nation (Treaty three territory), and from North Bay, Ontario (Robinson-Huron Treaty territory).

His research seeks to respond to the political problem of colonialism in Canada and how Canadian law is used to serve colonialism’s end. Mills suggests the problem can be addressed if we empower Indigenous peoples to revitalize their systems of law and are willing to have Canadian law enter into constitutional dialogue with these systems rather than having it assume power over them.  

“It is fabulous that Aaron has received this honour. He is an amazing individual: intelligent, engaged, equally knowledgeable about his Anishinaabe legal tradition and non-Indigenous law, with the skills to manoeuvre between them,” says UVic Law Dean Jeremy Webber. “He has a wonderful way of combining a soft-spoken demeanour, respectful of all, with a forthright and incisive commitment to knowledge.”

As an award recipient, Mills will receive an annual grant of up to $60,000 for a three-year period. In addition to this funding, Mills will benefit from having access to the expertise and knowledge of the network of Trudeau Foundation fellows and mentors.

“Winning a Trudeau scholarship affords me an opportunity to share my ideas with an incredible community of thinkers and actors committed to social change,” says Mills. “I'll have the opportunity to test and strengthen my arguments with many of Canada's most creative students and leaders dedicated to making Canada a better home for all.”

“I think my scholarship also indicates the tremendous contemporary relevance for all Canadians of learning about Indigenous legal orders within their own normative frameworks,” he adds.

Prior to coming to UVic, Mills obtained his JD from the University of Toronto in 2010. In 2011, he completed articles at Olthuis Kleer Townshend LLP. He later returned to academia and earned an LLM at Yale Law School as a Fulbright Scholar in 2012.

Mills then went on to become a senior researcher for an oral traditions and Indigenous law project organized jointly through the Indigenous Bar Association and UVic’s Indigenous Law Research Clinic. Currently, Mills balances his work as a doctoral student with his role as a member of the Board of Directors of the Indigenous Bar Association.

Mills is the fourth UVic law student to be named a Trudeau scholar since the faculty’s graduate program was first established in 2004. Mills joins the ranks of past winners, Dawnis Kennedy (2006), Andrée Boisselle (2008), and Johnny Mack (2011). This remarkable record of success speaks to the quality of UVic Law’s students and the importance of their groundbreaking research.

The Trudeau scholarship supports outstanding doctoral students who are committed to solving issues of critical importance to Canada and the world. The Foundation’s actions are focused on four major themes that reflect central questions critical to our society: Human Rights and Dignity, Responsible Citizenship, Canada in the World, and People and their Natural Environment.