Revitalization of Indigenous laws across Canada


Budget 2019 announced $10 million over five years to support renewed legal relationships with Indigenous peoples through the funding of Indigenous law initiatives across Canada. This announcement responds to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action (CTA) 50, which calls upon the federal government, in collaboration with Indigenous organizations, to fund the establishment of Indigenous law institutes for the development, use and understanding of Indigenous laws and access to justice in accordance with the unique cultures of Indigenous peoples in Canada.

The Department of Justice Canada is highlighting 21 projects related to CTA 50. These projects will support renewed legal relationships with Indigenous peoples that will advance the development, use and understanding of Indigenous laws. Funding for this initiative is provided through Justice Canada’s Justice Partnership and Innovation Program.

Heiltsuk Tribal Council, British Columbia

This project will explore the Heiltsuk Tribal Council’s Heiltsuk Gvilas (traditional code of laws and legal order) to inform Heiltsuk laws, policies, and governance processes. The project activities will build the Nation’s governance capacity while contributing to the field of Indigenous law and the greater Canadian legal framework.

Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, British Columbia

The Nuu-chah-nulth Salmon Law Project will support the sustainable management of salmon in the Ha-houlthee (traditional territories) of the central northern Nuu-chah-nulth Nations. Sustainable resource management requires the revitalization of hishukish ts’awalk, an understanding that everything in the ecosystem is connected. Through this project, the organization will work with elders, traditional leadership, and knowledge holders to re-invigorate traditional fisheries laws into a modern format that conveys the community’s vision for the management of fisheries to support the development of an indigenous law rationale for the creation of protected and conserved Salmon Parks in some Nuu-chah-nulth Nations.

Katzie First Nation, British Columbia

This project will support the revitalization and application of Katzie First Nation customary laws by working with Elders and Katzie knowledge holders to develop Indigenous laws through research into the customary laws embedded in Katzie territory management.

Shuswap Nation Tribal Council, British Columbia

The Shuswap Nation Tribal Council, in partnership with the University of Victoria’s Indigenous Law Research Unit, will develop training materials to increase community knowledge and understanding of Secwepemc traditional legal principles. The project is built on research and supports the implementation of Secwepemc Laws in the Secwepemc Nation. Activities include workshops, training and information sessions to community members about the practical application of Secwepemc legal traditions pertaining to lands, natural resources and citizenship. In addition, the project will create an online database to store, share and increase access to Secwepemc laws.

Yellowknives Dene First Nation, Northwest Territories

The Yellowknives Dene First Nation Rebuilding Project will establish the legal and governance infrastructure needed to shift to an Indigenous Dene system of law and governance. To reach this objective, the project will involve: 1) Consulting Dene Knowledge holders to record and distill knowledge on traditional laws, governance and legal traditions; 2) Developing a governance framework to shift to a traditional system of law and government, including legislative drafting; and 3) establishing a constitution for the Yellowknives Dene First Nations.

Behdzi Adha First Nation, Northwest Territories

The Dehla Got’ine Caribou Law Project will research and document ancient laws and traditions relating to caribou harvesting. The organization will conduct elder interviews and on-the-land community participatory research to inform the development of a written version of ancient laws related to caribou harvesting. This process will ensure that legal principles and practices in this area are accessible to community members, Indigenous and public governments and co-management authorities to guide and inform caribou co-management processes.

The Nu Ch’anie Society, Alberta

This project will advance the development, use and understanding of Denesuline laws by Cold Lake First Nations. In partnership with legal professionals and legal researchers, Cold Lake First Nations will conduct research into the customary traditions and practices that have governed the behavior of individuals and the community. This project will identify the traditional practices and modern legal instruments needed to revitalize and implement Indigenous Denesuline laws in the modern context.

University of Alberta, Wahkohtowin Law and Governance Lodge, Alberta

This project aims to support the increased understanding, confidence and capacity to identify, articulate and implement Indigenous laws and governance principles among Indigenous communities. Law students, legal professionals and the judiciary will increase their understanding and ability to engage respectfully and productively with Indigenous laws. Method workshops will be conducted to develop accessible and clear language Indigenous law public legal education materials on specific topics, such as constitutionalism, citizenship, and child welfare. Train the trainer workshop will also be conducted to meet the high demand for the methods workshops.

Métis Nation of Alberta, Alberta

This project aims to develop a legal framework that will incorporate Métis cultural aspects and support the development of Métis child and family services laws. Specifically, this project will develop the legislation and policy instruments required to govern Métis Nation of Alberta role in overseeing Métis children and families in relation to provincial services.

Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, Saskatchewan

The project is to update the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Framework for First Nations Justice System and revitalize Indigenous Laws of the Nehiyawak (Cree) Nation. Developed in 2013, the Framework was a response to 23 separate resolutions passed by the FSIN Chiefs-in-Assembly that mandate the establishment of First Nations justice system to strengthen individuals, families, and communities through the restoration of traditional Indigenous justice.

Sagkeeng Lawmakers Assembly, Manitoba

Through this four-year project, the Sagkeeng Lawmakers Assembly will work toward the implementation of the Dibaakonigewin (ratified “Justice Law”). The project will support the establishment of the Judicial Council and Secretariat to ensure that Sagkeeng’s unique Anishinaabe laws and legal processes are revitalized in a sustainable way. The Judicial Council will be a mechanism for the people of Sagkeeng to be directly involved with their government and lawmaking.

Nishnawbe-Aski Nation, Ontario

The project will support the revitalization and implementation of traditional Indigenous laws and support communities to develop individual justice plans that suit the needs of Nishnawbe-Aski Nation communities.

Lakehead University, Bora Laskin Faculty of Law, Ontario

This project will lay the foundation for an Indigenous Law and Justice Institute at the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law at Lakehead University. The project will include three elements: growing relationships and partnering with regional First Nations communities, tribal councils and the Métis Nation of Ontario for the revitalization of Anishinaabe and Métis Law; land-based and partnered learning opportunities for community members and law students, and continuing legal education opportunities for the regional practicing bar and the judiciary; and research to support the project’s revitalization and curriculum development initiatives.

Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians, Ontario

Through this project, the organization will research, pilot and build the laws and institutions necessary to implement and build capacity among Association or Iroquois and Allied Indians member First Nations. A full-time researcher will study and report on the traditional laws and law-making processes of the Lenape, Mohawk, Oneida, and Anishinaabe nations. In phase two of the project, Batchewana First Nation and Eelünaapéewi Lahkéewiit (Delaware First Nation) will participate in pilot project to re-establish law-making institutions and begin the process of developing laws. The project will create the necessary capacity and community support for participating nations to maintain their law-making institutions in a sustainable manner.

Chiefs of Ontario, Ontario

The project is to provide First Nations in Ontario the expertise in law development within an Indigenous cultural context. Chiefs of Ontario will support the communities by providing the legal and cultural expertise in the development of First Nations Child Welfare laws through the creation and use of a cultural framework and customized tool kits for the legislative process.

Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, Ontario

The project will advance the development, use, and understanding of Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) Laws and create the revitalization of Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) legal systems. Chippewas of the Thames First Nation will revitalize Anishnaabe laws by developing a law-making process that is culturally appropriate and based on Anishnaabe traditional teachings.

Henvey Inlet First Nation, Ontario

Henvey Inlet First Nation (HIFN) will revitalize HIFN laws through the development of a curriculum rooted in community engagement between Elders, knowledge keepers, youth and leadership of HIFN. The goal is to establish a community-driven legal framework that preserves, transmits, and implements traditional approaches to justice. This project will support capacity building by increasing community members’ knowledge on customary HIFN laws and will focus on traditional legal customs related to dispute resolutions, criminal laws, and environmental stewardship.

Université Laval, Québec

This project will strengthen Inuit capacity and governance in the area of justice in Nunavik by documenting, mobilizing and promoting Inuit legal practices and knowledge. Activities will include: documenting Inuit legal practices and knowledge; training Inuit justice service employees in both Inuit legal practices and knowledge, and promoting Inuit legal practices and services through awareness and information activities for communities, justice personnel and other public services, and Inuit from other regions of Canada.

Cree Nation of Mistissini, Québec

This Mistissini Governance Project will create a series of fundamental governance laws for the Cree Nation of Mistissini. The three laws include: a Mistissini Governance Law, a Mistissini Hunting Law and a Mistissini Development Law. This project will support the integration of Cree legal principles and values into a series of fundamental governance laws and be applied across the entire traditional territory.

Conseil de la nation Atikamekw, Québec

The purpose of this project is to develop and implement an Atikamekw law on child and family services in accordance wit the Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families (S.C. 2019, c. 24).

Mi’gmawe’l Tplu’taqnn Inc, New Brunswick

This project will revitalize Indigenous laws through research on traditional Mi’gmaq harvesting. The research will support the development of resources to aid Mi’gmaq harvesters in carrying out respectful dialogue regarding Indigenous harvesting laws and rights, and to develop a community-based enforcement strategy on harvesting protocols.

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