Buller begins her three year appointment in January
Justice Marion Buller was once an undergraduate student at UVic in the department of anthropology. Now, after decades of groundbreaking work as an Indigenous Justice and scholar, she is returning to the same campus as Chancellor.
Buller could hardly contain her excitement during the announcement in UVic’s law library.
“I’m absolutely thrilled, as you can tell,” she said with a laugh.
As Chancellor, Buller says her work will begin with learning — learning what issues the university is facing as an institution, learning about the challenges students are facing, and learning about the relationships the university has with First Nations. She particularly hopes to strengthen those relationships, building off the work of current Chancellor Shelagh Rogers.
“So much of living is about building relationships and so, of course, there are relationships to build here within the Ring Road and also outside of the Ring Road,” she said.
Buller will take on the role in January, following decades of impactful experience in the legal field.
From the courtroom to the campus
After completing a JD and LLM degree at UVic, Buller started practicing as a lawyer. Buller was appointed as a judge in 1994, just seven years after finishing her LLM. She became B.C.’s first First Nations woman to hold that position. She is a member of the Mistawasis Nêhiyawak, a Cree First Nation in Saskatchewan.
Buller was instrumental in creating Indigenous Courts (originally known as First Nations Courts of BC) in 2006. These courts use principles of restorative justice and allow people who plead guilty to chart a path of community-based support, known as a healing plan. For Indigenous offenders, this means that the court process is more in line with traditional Indigenous ways than a typical adversarial court.
In 2016, Buller was appointed the chief commissioner for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The inquiry was a monumental undertaking, with over 2 380 participants. Through collecting stories and testimonies, this inquiry uncovered systemic and intentional rights violations behind Canada’s disproportionate rates of violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people. The final report includes 231 Calls for Justice. The Canadian government is currently creating a national action plan based off of this report.
Stepping into the role of chancellor is a new venture for Buller, but it’s also bringing her back to the place where she began her educational journey. As she embarks on this next stage of her career, she says she is reminded of an Indigenous lesson: that you have two ears and one mouth for a reason.
“I’ve always found, regardless of what I’ve been doing, I learn so much more by listening than by talking,” she says.
The role of UVic’s Chancellor
UVic defines a Chancellor as the “titular head of the university and the chair of its convocation.” When UVic grads walk across the convocation stage, the Chancellor is the person that greets them. The role is also embedded in UVic’s highest governance structures. The Chancellor is on the Board of Governors, the Senate, and also serves ex officio on the Board’s Executive and Governance Committee, Finance Committee and Operations, and other key committees at UVic.
The Chancellor can be appointed for a maximum of two terms. As Rogers is approaching the end of her second term as chancellor in December, she is not eligible to continue on. A search committee composed of seven people from the Senate, Board of Governors, and alumni association sorted through potential candidates with the assistance of the Boyden Executive Search firm.
The committee’s mandate includes a clause on equity and diversity, stating that “The chair of the committee is encouraged to consult Equity and Human Rights for advice and support in conducting a search process that reflects and advances this commitment.”
The chancellor is also expected to reflect the university’s values and promote these values.
UVic President Kevin Hall said Buller is a perfect fit for UVic in this regard.
“Marion’s appointment reflects UVic’s unwavering commitment to listening, learning, and to being open to new ways of thinking and doing as we aspire to embed Indigenous principles and Indigenous-led scholarship into the fabric of UVic,” Hall said.
Buller says that UVic’s law school has always held a special place in her memory.
“It was a while ago but I was [once a UVic student], and I had dreams and aspirations … my education here at UVic made those dreams and aspirations come true.”
She says those initial experiences at UVic were foundational for her career.
“UVic law school mentors lit a fire in me that set me on my legal path,” Buller said. “Education transformed my life and because of my education I was able to work within systems to make change. Education is a great gift that should be shared generously and wisely.”