hide You are viewing an archived web page, collected at the request of University of Alberta using Archive-It. This page was captured on 18:18:17 Dec 08, 2010, and is part of the HCF Alberta Online Encyclopedia collection. The information on this web page may be out of date. See All versions of this archived page. Loading media information
Heritage Community Foundation Presents
Alberta Online Encyclopedia
spacer spacer spacer spacer
Nature's Law
Spiritual Life, Governance, Culture, Traditions, Resources, Context and Background
The Heritage Community Foundation, Alberta Law Foundation and Albertasource.ca
Home  |   About  |   Contact Us  |   Partners  |   Sitemap spacer

Categories of Nature's Laws

Environment Law

Visual representation of nature's laws

1 | 2 | Page 3

[<< Previous]

In our exploration here, we have selected ten kinds of laws for examination…eliciting 10 different kinds of categories of law. These kinds of law related well to our notions of law and show that, while the systems are different they still relate to each other at a basic level. Clearly other kinds of laws could be developed, but these ten cover some of the most fundamental, and they relate directly to concepts with which we are familiar. We have also begun this analysis with a basic Category analysis of the Spiritual/Sacred Quality in law. This quality provides the bedrock on which the ten categories can rest.

We will use the Cree language as an example of the kinds of laws present, but we could as easily have developed the same set of terms for the Chipewyan, Dene, Blackfoot or any of the other people in our survey.

1. The Spiritual/Sacred Quality
Technically this is not a "category" of law, for it stands behind and provides the meaning and structure for all law. We have, nevertheless, indicated it as part of Nature's Law because it is formative of that Law. Thus, the foundations of Nature’s Law for all Indigenous Peoples can be described as the Spiritual/Sacred Element in the Cosmos and in Law—its principles, values and meaningful stories are based upon it. This numinous centre of Indigenous reality involves such areas of understanding as myths, cultural stories, principles, greater-than-human beings, general values, the "sound" of truth, the focus for "nature’s law," and ethical understandings. Later in this report, we will dedicate a whole section to discussing these foundations.

Accordingly the Indigenous People practiced the following "kinds of law," (using Cree as the language of insight for illustrative purposes)

2. Ritual Law (manitohkasowin)
Rules and requirements associated with ritual were the responsibility of the wise and the spiritually gifted. This law had many dimensions, including seasonal directives, institutional demands and chosen personnel. Taboos also played a role in this law, some of which were kept secret, or were the purvey of the knowledgeable. Most ordinary citizens remained outside the deeper reaches of this law.

3. "Constitutional" Law (nehiyawewintotam, i.e., S/he acts like a Cree person [trad. translation] or S/he acts like an Indigenous person [contemporary translation]

This kind of law deals with issues of identity and social belonging of the group as a whole. Traditional hunting grounds were one marker of constitutional authority, as were treaty agreements and inter-tribal arrangements. Issues related to the well-being of the group were also involved in constitutional affairs.

4. Relational Law (wahhkotowak, i.e, the act of being related to each other)

A number of areas impinge on this category of First Nations' understanding: kinship systems /family relationships, that is, nehiyawewin/akayasemowin, or kiciniskehk (sacred power), making things "right," systems of responsibility, respect, consent, reciprocity, etc.

5. Territorial Law (nehiyawaskiy, literally, Indigenous land and territory)

Territorial law encompasses more than territory, for it relates to what we would call the ecolog—the presence (or absence) of traditional food animals, the use of resources in traditional territories, the preservation and enhancement of the area within boundaries, etc., all fall under this set of rules.

6. Governmental Law (wiyasowewin/ oyasiwwewin, literally, a governing law)

The Indigenous people of Alberta demonstrated great resourcefulness in building societies, with flexible systems of rulership and significant curbs on authority. The Sundance was the primary model for government, since it was at this annual celebration that the whole people came together and dealt with common issues and problems. Smaller band government was more dependent upon chiefs, along with gifted leaders for specific issues. Medicine people and shamans were consultants in the governance of the people, since they were deemed to have knowledge of the spirit world's intentions.

7. Personal Law (manatcihiwewin, respecting someone or ayiswewinpakitinamotowin, i.e, individual act allowed by the law)

Issues of personal property were involved in this kind of law—who "owned" a canoe, who had the rights to hunt or trap in a certain region, who owned the tipis, etc. These were mediated by talk and discussion within bands or tribes, and the concept differs considerably from our notion of ownership.

8. Restitutional Law (mihtatatamowin, act of repentance, masinahikewin, indebtedness)
Justice was meted out according to the peoples' understanding of their law, so local oral codes (peyakoskaniwin, i.e, act of being one family or tribe) helped in maintaining constituency in dealing with infractions locally. The over-riding principle, however, was not punishment of the wrongdoer, per se, but return of the social group to health and well being. Hence, restitution was of much higher value than plain punishment, for the latter only dealt with the immediate problem; whereas, justice had to deal with the long-term survival and health of the group. Sentencing circles, usually composed of elders and members of family from both sides, mediated the results of community consensus on an infraction.

9. Local Oral Law (tipahikepayihtāwin, i.e, act of imposing a rule or requirement)

In this kind of law, local understandings play a role in defining the legal territory. The best approach to this category is to note that tribal and regional differences played a role in defining law among Indigenous peoples in a very significant manner. For example, the Dene people have a long tradition of "holy" people called, in English, "prophets" who often come to tell the people what would be coming and how the people should prepare themselves. The best known of such figures among the Dene is Nógha (pronounced No-ah). He was said to receive his information from a wolverine (Nógha is Slavey for wolverine). Stories of his exploits continue to influence Dene culture to this day. Hence, in this category, we will try to indicate how law takes on local coloring from people and occurrences, despite its attendance to some of the general principles we have noted.

10. Environmental Law (nakayaskamowin /wasakameskakewin, literally, way of life/all-around-one's self)

Environmental law dealt with issues of survival—preservation of food stocks, growth of fruit and berries, sharing of resources among band members, responsibility of members to the group, if specialized areas were in their traditional territory (i.e., medicine plants, etc.). Environmental law applied to killing of females, wiping out families of animals, disturbing the herd of bison, utilizing all the resources in a given season, etc.

There are others that could be construed as reflecting the law-like tendencies of our own jurisprudence, but these categories indicate the complexity and richness of Indigenous legal tradition and should be sufficient to demonstrate the sophistication of Indigenous civilization.

deco deco

Albertasource.ca | Contact Us | Partnerships
            For more on Aboriginal views of governance, visit Peel’s Prairie Provinces.
Copyright © Heritage Community Foundation All Rights Reserved