1 RELAW 2016-2017 Case Studies | West Coast Environmental Law


RELAW 2016-2017 Case Studies

In 2016 our first RELAW cohort, involving six Indigenous nations from around the province, began working on unique projects grounded in their own traditional laws. By facilitating community dialogue and engaging with the stories and traditions of their nations, participants draw out legal principles that can be applied to the environmental problems they are facing today.

St’át’imc Nation

St'at'imc Elders

The St’át’imc tell stories of a time when Transformers travelled throughout the land, changing the landscape so it would sustain life. Many of the mountains, valleys, lakes, and rivers in St’át’imc territory were created by the Transformers. Today, the Nation is concerned that water is not as safe as it once was. With pressures from mining, logging, dams, and population growth in their territory, elders have expressed fears that they can’t drink water from the streams like they used to. Water levels and quality have also affected the salmon run on the Fraser River, which the St’át’imc have relied on for generations. Through the RELAW Project, over 200 people have engaged with St’át’imc stories related to water and law. Under the direction of the St’át’imc Chiefs Council, the RELAW team is creating a water policy rooted in St’át’imc law.

Photo: St’át’imc Elders gathered to discuss legal principles drawn from stories.


Shuswap Nation Tribal Council

Secwepemc Governance "Tour" event in Qw7ewt - Little Shuswap Lake Indian Band - near Chase, BC in November 2016

Prior to joining the RELAW project, the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council had undertaken a series of community interviews and engagement events about Secwepemc stories and law, in order to produce a detailed analysis of Secwepemc legal principles that apply to lands and resources. Through RELAW, the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council has expanded on this work by drafting Ec k tslecékstemstpes re tmícw-emp (Take good care of your lands), a type of draft “environmental code of conduct” to provide an example of how Secwepemc environmental laws may be applied. This work will be part of ongoing engagement beyond the RELAW project with Secwepemc communities about how to reform and revitalize Secwepemc governance and the application of Secwepemc law.

Photo: Secwepemc Governance “Tour” event in Qw7ewt – Little Shuswap Lake Indian Band – near Chase, BC in November 2016.


Fort Nelson First NationArtwork by Fort Nelson First Nation Community Members

Fort Nelson First Nation (FNFN), located in the Northern Rockies – in Treaty 8 territory in the northeast corner of BC – signed on to the RELAW project in order to create a water policy using their traditional laws as a foundation. As the RELAW community researcher, Kerissa Dickie, collected literature and interviews with community knowledge-holders, they realized that the RELAW Project was also an opportunity to create a living document outlining the history and the culture of their unique community that could be used in both preservation and revitalization of their Indigenous way of being. A RELAW-themed art contest, focused on the depiction of the laws of land and nature, also encouraged FNFN community members to consider their own stories and intrinsic connection to the natural world around them.

Artwork by Fort Nelson First Nation community members:

Clockwise from top left: "Transformation" by Preson Burke, "Hawk" by Preston Burke, "Beaver" by Preston Burke, "FNFN Proud" by Shelene Needlay 


Gitga’at First NationLa'goot Spencer Greening fishes for ling cod in Gitga'at Territory

La’goot Spencer Greening, member and councillor of the Gitga’at First Nation, spent a week during the summer talking to community members about law, land, and water. It wasn’t always easy. As he explains, “Fishing for stories in the summer is like trying to fish for salmon in the winter!” In 2017, the RELAW team will talk to community members in Prince Rupert and Hartley Bay about standards for healthy land and water, as well as how to make decisions. Gitga’at First Nation is focusing on using their traditional laws to develop a process for assessing projects and other proposals that may impact Gitga’at traditional territory. 

Photo: La’goot Spencer Greening fishes for ling cod in Gitga’at Territory.


Tsawout First Nation

Tsawout is part of the WSÁNEĆ Nation; their main village is located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island on the east side of the Saanich Pennisula. Since the RELAW project began, community researcher Joshua James and facilitator Shauna Johnson have collected over 100 stories from historical and anthropological sources and from within the community. The team invited community members to attend a series of storytelling sessions in order to re-connect with important places, such as the sacred site LÁU,WEL,NEW (a.k.a Mt. Newton), to engage with their stories and draft legal principles from those stories. Throughout the process, community members have been asked to consider the possibilities for creating an alternative future where WSÁNEĆ people actively make their own decisions and exercise authority on how to protect, conserve, and manage their marine ecosystems – and how to implement Douglas Treaty rights according to WSÁNEĆ laws.

Photo: Tsawout community members discuss their experiences with Indigenous law.


Tsilhqot’in NationRELAW staff join community members for a horseback trip in Tsilhqot'in territory

The territory of the Tsilhqot’in Nation consists of mountains, forests, rivers, and lakes that have power according to Tsilhqot’in stories. The people must respect them, in order to live in a good way.  The Tsilhqot’in have worked very hard together over the years to protect their land and ensure their laws govern their territories in the way their ancestors were taught.

Photo: RELAW staff join community members for a horseback trip in Tsilhqot’in territory