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Artwork by Clayton Gauthier

Reconcili(action): What is Indigenous Law?

In March 2021, the CRT released its Reconcili(action) Plan. This document sets out the CRT’s commitment to implementing specific, measurable, and timely actions toward reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

From May to August 2021 the CRT’s Indigenous summer law student, Beth Fox, focused on helping the CRT take action on two commitments in the Plan:

13. The CRT will provide different options in order to accommodate Indigenous approaches to resolving disputes and help participants resolve their disputes consensually if possible.

14. The CRT will integrate Indigenous legal principles, protocols and practices into the CRT’s processes.

This is the first blog post in a series about this work.

What is Indigenous law?

Indigenous law includes legal orders from First Nation, Métis and Inuit groups and communities. These laws vary. There are over 50 distinct Indigenous peoples in what is now called Canada, and each has their own language, territory, and legal system. Indigenous law is often oversimplified. It isn’t just about cultural beliefs or values but complex processes for reasoning, decision making and social ordering. Work is taking place across the country to revitalize and recognize Indigenous law.

Where do Indigenous laws come from?

University of Victoria professor, Dr. John Borrows, has identified 5 sources of Indigenous laws, including: sacred, natural, deliberative, positivistic, and customary.

  • Sacred laws stem from the Creator and include creation stories and ancient teachings which have withstood the test of time.
  • Natural law is based on observations of the physical world and seeks to develop rules for conflict resolution and regulation from studying the behavior of the natural world.
  • Deliberative law is formed through processes of persuasion, discussion, and council.
  • Positivistic law is the proclamations, regulations, rules, codes, and teachings that bind behavior.
  • Customary law is the practices developed through repetitive patterns of social interaction that are also accepted as binding.

Although each legal order is distinct, some of the principles often found in Indigenous law include respect, restitution, reconciliation, responsibility and connection with natural and spiritual environments, Creator, and community.

Indigenous people are resilient even though there have been attempts to suppress them. Indigenous peoples are still living their laws, despite the extensive efforts taken to assimilate them through institutions such as residential schools.

Indigenous law is being recognized more as Canada has begun reconciliation with Indigenous people. For example, An Act Respecting First Nations, Inuit and Metis children, youth and families came into force in 2020. It aims to make space for Indigenous people to make laws and policies about child and family wellness. This is one of the many steps forward in the recognition of Indigenous law in Canada.

The next blog post about Beth’s work will be posted in June, 2022.

Artwork by Clayton Gauthier from the Nak’azdli First Nation. The CRT would like to thank Clayton for the gift of using his artwork in relation to the Reconcili(action) Plan. “Salmon’s Prayer” honours the connection that Indigenous peoples have with the land and water and share with all peoples.