Indigenous & Aboriginal Law
West Coast Environmental Law provides legal and strategic support to First Nations who are revitalizing, articulating, and applying aspects of their laws in relation to questions of environmental governance. Recent examples include development and legal implementation of land use and marine plans, supporting nations in implementing their own review processes for major projects and in issuing reasons for their decisions regarding resource management issues as a matter of their own laws and truth.
The fundamental reality that Indigenous law is law informs and guides our work. We strive to recognize, respect and honour the internal strengths and resiliencies present in Indigenous societies and their legal traditions. Indigenous law is relevant to all aspects of environmental governance, including land and resource management, marine management, environmental protection, and water law.
Indigenous law exists independently of recognition from the state, embodied in, among other sources, the stories and language of each Indigenous nation. The Canadian Constitution recognizes the existing Aboriginal and treaty rights, including title and governance rights of Indigenous peoples in Canada. In 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Tsilhqot’in Nation v British Columbia marked a watershed moment in a long journey of Indigenous peoples to achieve recognition in the courts of their inherent title and authority of their territory. This and other judicial decisions have opened up new political and legal space for revitalization and application of Indigenous law in Canada today.
In this context we believe that Indigenous law has the potential to catalyze transformative shifts in environmental governance in Canada that will benefit all Canadians.
“Indigenous law is the great project of Canada and it is the essential work of our time. It is not for the faint of heart. It is hard work. We need to create meaningful opportunities for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to critically engage in this work because all our futures depend on it.” Doug S White III (Kwulasultun) Snuneymuxw First Nation
Areas of work:
- RELAW: Revitalizing Indigenous Law for Land, Air and Water - RELAW is a project of WCEL and the Indigenous Law Research Unit at the University of Victoria aimed at deepening community-based capacity to engage in the process of articulating, revitalizing and applying Indigenous law to contemporary environmental issues and proactive land and resource management. We are currently seeking expressions of interest from Indigenous nations to be part of the first cohort of RELAW participants. For more information, see our Community Call-out page or contact Maxine Matilpi at Maxine_Matilpi@wcel.org.
- Strategic Planning - Developing land use plans can be a powerful way for a First Nation to communicate their laws and the wisdom of their Elders in order to protect the lands and resources of their territory and eventually transform mainstream laws as well.
For a list of all West Coast publications related to our Aboriginal Law program, please click here.