John Borrows
Kegedonce (Anishinaabe)
Professor Borrows in January 2019
Alma materOsgoode Hall Law School
University of Toronto Faculty of Law
University of Toronto
Known forCanadian Indigenous law

John Borrows OC FRSC (or Kegedonce in Anishinaabe)[1] is a Canadian academic and jurist. He is a full professor of law at the University of Victoria Faculty of Law, where he holds the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law. He is known as a leading authority on Canadian Indigenous law and constitutional law and has been cited by the Supreme Court of Canada.[2]

Early life and education

Borrows is Anishinaabe/Ojibway, and a member of the Chippewas of the Nawash First Nation in Ontario, Canada.[3][4]

Borrows grew up near the Cape Croker reserve on Georgian Bay in Ontario. Borrows's mother ran away in order to escape being sent to a residential school. Borrows credits her with teaching him about Indigenous laws while he grew up on the land that his family farmed. Borrows's uncle was a former chief, a great-grandfather was a long-serving councillor, and his great-great-grandfather was one of the signatories to a land treaty with the Crown.[1]

Borrows received a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts from the University of Toronto in politics and history. He went on to earn his Doctor of Law and Master of Laws at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, and his Doctor of Philosophy at Osgoode Hall Law School.[1] While he was at Osgoode, he started an international Indigenous legal exchange program, which is still active as of November 2018.[1]


Borrows taught at the University of British Columbia Faculty of Law from 1992 until 1998, where he was the first First Nations Legal Studies Director.[3] While there, he helped create an Indigenous Peoples' legal clinic to serve members of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, which is still active as of November 2018.[1][5]

From 1998, until 2001, Borrows taught law at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, where he helped start the June Callwood program in Aboriginal law. In 1999, Borrows worked in the newly-created northern territory of Nunavut to help develop its legal infrastructure. He taught as part of the Akitsiraq Law School, which was a temporary branch of the University of Victoria Faculty of Law.[3][1]

In 2001, Borrows joined the University of Victoria Faculty of Law (UVic), teaching there for most of the next decade. By 2003, Borrows became the Law Foundation chair in Aboriginal justice at the UVic. Later, he also taught at the University of Melbourne, the University of Waikato Law School in New Zealand, and the University of Minnesota, where he was the Robina Chair in Law and Society.[3][1][5]

In 2015, Borrows returned to the University of Victoria.[1] In 2017, he became the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law.[2]

After the retirement of Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin from the Supreme Court of Canada, there was widespread speculation that Borrows was a leading contender to be the first Indigenous jurist to sit on the country's top court. Ultimately, the seat went to Sheilah Martin, which led to Indigenous legal figures such as Scott Robertson, the president of the Indigenous Bar Association to publicly express their disappointment with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's decision not to pick an Indigenous person. According to the Toronto Star, Borrows's name was not on the shortlist, so either he did not apply or did not make it to the final shortlist.[6][7]

Borrows, along with his colleague Val Napoleon, was instrumental in creating the joint common law and Indigenous law degree (JD/JID) program at the University of Victoria Faculty of Law, the first program in a Canadian law school to allow an integrated study of the Canadian common law and indigenous legal traditions.[4] The program is a four-year program, and opened in Fall 2018.[1]

Borrows has been involved in the Indigenous Law programs at Osgoode Hall, the University of Windsor Faculty of Law, Western Law, and McGill University Faculty of Law.[4] Borrows was also a visiting professor at Arizona State University College of Law, University of New South Wales, Waikato University, Brigham Young University, University of Arizona, Princeton University, and McGill University.[5]


Borrows is known as a leading authority on Canadian indigenous law and constitutional law and has been cited multiple times by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Pamela Palmater, the chair of Indigenous governance at Ryerson University, credits Borrows, Val Napoleon and Taiaiake Alfred at the University of Victoria, and Glen Coulthard at the University of British Columbia with a sea change in the study of Indigenous law in Canada in the last two decades from Canadian law applied to Indigenous peoples to actual Indigenous law.[1]

Honours and awards

Borrows was awarded an National Aboriginal Achievement Award for his legal work.[3] He has also been a Fellow of the Trudeau Foundation, and a Fellow of the Academy of Arts, Humanities and Sciences of Canada (RSC) of the Royal Society of Canada (Canada's highest academic honor). In 2012, he received the Indigenous Peoples Counsel (I.P.C.) from the Indigenous Bar Association.

In 2017, Borrows won the Killam Prize for Social Science.[1] In 2018, was named one of the twenty-five most influential lawyers in Canada.[8][9]

Borrows has also received several honorary degrees, including one from Dalhousie University.[1] In 2018, he received an honorary doctorate from York University.[10]

Borrows was made an officer of the Order of Canada in 2021.[11]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Ball, David P. (November 15, 2018). "He spent his life immersed in Indigenous law. Now he's helping Canada's next generation of lawyers change its course". Retrieved January 26, 2019.
  2. ^ a b "John Borrows". Canada Research Chairs. Archived from the original on August 1, 2018. Retrieved January 27, 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d e Dansereau, Inna (2003). "National Aboriginal Achievement Award winners announced". Raven's Eye. Aboriginal Multi-Media Society. Archived from the original on January 27, 2019. Retrieved January 27, 2019.
  4. ^ a b c Fine, Sean (March 21, 2018). "University of Victoria to launch first-of-its-kind Indigenous law program". Retrieved January 27, 2019.
  5. ^ a b c "John Borrows". University of Victoria. Retrieved January 26, 2019.
  6. ^ Geddes, John (November 29, 2017). "Indigenous lawyers upset over Trudeau's Supreme Court pick". Maclean's. Retrieved January 27, 2019.
  7. ^ MacCharles, Tonda (November 29, 2017). "Absence of Indigenous candidate a 'missed opportunity,' lawyers say". Toronto Star. Retrieved January 27, 2019.
  8. ^ "John Borrows (Trudeau Foundation)".
  9. ^ "John Borrows: The Top 25 Most Influential 2018 winner".
  10. ^ "Indigenous law scholar John Borrows receives honorary degree from York University".
  11. ^ Canada, Governor General of. "Governor General Announces 61 New Appointments to the Order of Canada". Retrieved 2021-01-01.