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Nature's Law
Spiritual Life, Governance, Culture, Traditions, Resources, Context and Background
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Historical Evidence
Linguistic Basis

Historical Evidence

Oral Tradition

European
"Authorities"

Indigenous
 Testimony

Recent Legal
Opinion

Visual representation of nature's laws


Jesuit Paul Le Jeune (1591-1664), writing in the Jesuit Relations concerning the St. Lawrence Valley natives (probably Iroquoian-speaking Hurons) would note: "Besides having some kind of Laws maintained among themselves, there is also a certain order established as regards foreign nations." In effect, then, one of the first cultural distinctives identified by the early Church officials was the rule of law, and the facility that they had in normalizing relationships with outside powers… likely through treaties. In effect this kind of statement verifies that Indigenous social groups constituted distinctive identities through law and that law governed group to group dynamics. The evidence is that treaties were operative when Europeans first came to these shores. This means, then, that law systems were in place that defined distinctive groups and that they fashioned complex relationships with other groups according to a supra-tribal code of ethics. Indeed, it continued to influence Native behaviour long after American and Canadian systems of law overwhelmed local tribal laws. We see no reason why this kind of historical evidence should not provide us with the earliest validation of that legitimate forms of law were practiced in North America.

In a recent study by Indigenous scholar Heather Ann Harris, a startling case of tribal evidence has been described that was passed on for nearly 12,000 years. Now, strikingly that social remembrance has been scientifically validated. In effect, the tribal knowledge retained the fact of a terrific landslide that covered some of their tribe in their territory thousands of years ago. Contemporary archeological investigations have verified this cataclysmic event. While not all stories can be validated in this manner, it shows that such researches demonstrate that social remembrance is a solid and convincing storehouse for knowledge...we ought to be able to find a way of granting this knowledge official standing within our culture.

Yet the expectation that Indigenous knowledge be validated by Western science is itself critiqued by Harris, who argues that a science that can dogmatize about what is or is not knowledge cannot both be objective and be open. She argues:

The deeply ingrained rules for structuring Western thinking determine what can be considered real and what can be ruled out as unreal. If a phenomenon cannot be examined, measured, recorded and tested according to the rules of Western empiricism, it is often considered not real. While it is difficult for those who are part of the dominant ideology to discern the rules underlying Western scientific thinking, the rule are much more apparent to those who are not adherents to those ideologies. These include assumptions about matter, time, nature, values and race. Such assumptions which seem to be self-evident truths to those who are adherents to the ideologies from which they derive may appear as obvious untruths to those holding different ideologies. Aspects of indigenous knowledge cannot be considered in isolation from others and still be understood as culture members understand them. Western scholars are expected to be highly specialized, knowing much about one subject but not necessarily knowing about others which may be related. This is a way of learning about the world through inductive reasoning. In indigenous intellectual traditions, reasoning is usually deductive. It is expected that individuals will understand the functioning of the system and deduce the functioning of the parts, therefrom. (Harris, 2002)

If there are, then, good reasons why Indigenous concepts should be acknowledged as bone fide knowledge systems, there seems nothing in this research that should override the argument: the evidence points to Indigenous systems of law too. What is required is the careful weighing of the evidence to understand how it is to should be understood, defined and how it functioned.

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