Indigenous Law

RELAW: Living Indigenous Laws is a project of West Coast Environmental Law. It seeks to revitalize Indigenous Law for Land, Air, and Water. West Coast Environmental Law is an environmental law firm based in Vancouver, BC. The video embedded below is nearly 8 minutes long and very much worth your time. I have pulled out a few statements that are especially relevant to environmental evaluation below. I invite you to watch the video and then to also read and contemplate the short passages I’ve quoted. You may also find it useful to read those passages first and then watch the video through that lens.


A text-over definition in the video defines Indigenous Law this way: “Indigenous law is the law that comes from Indigenous people themselves and is deeply rooted in Indigenous societies.”

Spencer Greening (Gitga’at Nation): “We have complex decision-making processes. We have complex forms of governance. It’s relevant to today’s legal context and it has legitimacy. . . We work with communities to learn these laws from Elders, knowledge keepers, and the land itself. . . . I hope that with this resurgence of Indigenous law, that connection comes back. Understanding that the political world, the legal world, is bigger than these human-to-human relationships, when it extends to a relationship and a responsibility, an obligation to plants, animals, spiritual beings that we don’t see on a daily basis.” (at 1:30, 2:00, and 6:13 minutes)

Lindsay Borrows (Anishinaabe), daughter of Anishinaabe expert on Indigenous Law in Canada John Burrows, an accomplished Indigenous attorney herself, and author of Otter’s Journey through Indigenous Language and Law addresses the role of experiential learning in Indigenous worldview: “If you’re going to be considering environmental law, you need to be in relationship with the land and with the water. And so it made a lot of sense when we were working with Alice and the . . .  team, that we got to be in relationship with the land by spending about a month outside.” (at 2:00 minutes) And Hannah Askew, an attorney of European descent with the RELAW Team, points to one of the most important elements of the experiential learning Lindsay describes: “One of the first things that Alice taught Lindsay and I when we arrived was how to behave respectfully with some of the other beings on the land.” (at 2:20 minutes)

Alice Williams (Tsilhqo’tin Nation): “Our parents taught us to respect the land, the water, each individual animal, bird, fish. Everything on earth has spirit: the rocks, the soil, the trees.” (at 2:30 minutes)

A text-over in the video points to the importance of Mythic Ways of Knowing — in this case, learning from Knowledge that’s been encoded in story format — to Indigenous Law: “Traditional stories hold within them legal principles that have guided Indigenous nations since time immemorial. The RELAW project draws out legal principles from stories.”

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