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Nature's Law
Spiritual Life, Governance, Culture, Traditions, Resources, Context and Background
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Relational Law

Relational Law

Kinship Systems




Kinship Group

Understandings of Relations

Tsu'u Tina Kinship System

Kinship Terms

and Judgement



Visual representation of nature's laws

Page: 1

One of the basic differences in relational law has to do with the very concept of law and relationships with what English identifies as "others." In Nature's Laws, there are no hard and fast division between the sacred and the profane, nor the divine and the human, as operates in the Western understanding of law. A flavor of this can be gleaned from the following famous speech by Chief Joseph of the Nee Me Poo of Nez Perce (b. 1840 - d. 1904). Joseph is appealing to a basic respect for the law residing in all people, including the white man; it has universal expression:

There has been too much talking by men who had no right to talk. Too many misrepresentations have been made, too many misunderstandings have come up between the white men about the Indians. If the white man wants to live in peace with the Indian he can live in peace. There need be no trouble.

Treat all men alike. Give them all the same law. Give them all an even chance to live and grow. All men were made by the Chief. They are all brothers. ...

You might as well expect the rivers to run backward as that any man who was born free should be contented penned up and denied liberty to go where he pleases. ...

Let me be a free man-free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade, where I choose, free to choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers, free to think and talk and act for myself-and I will obey every law, or submit to the penalty.1

Moreover, the way one relates to "others" is not built upon a fixed group of values or narrowly defined 'facts.' In current ethical jargon, Indigenous law implies a significantly situational ethical process. One result of such a concept is that the 'cause' of any particular action may not relate to the immediately available 'facts.’ Both the past history and the future potentiality of a person have to be evaluated before a particular event can become determinative in deciding what should happen to an individual. As an example we could take the matter of determining why a young man had 'taken' someone's rifle and subsequently shot another person. The 'why' may well be related to a distant quarrel between families, or even because inkoze or some sacred responsibility was laid upon the 'offender.' In some ways, then, no 'taking' and no 'killing' was done, in and of itself. The act related primarily to a distant responsibility to bring back into balance within the larger community (which includes the past community and the present) by righting a particular wrong. At the very least, then, one has to know the ancestral story to be able to account for all the actions.

From the point of view of Indigenous people, then, Nature’s Laws are the consciousness of all the elements that was involved in a community being a healthy, well-rounded community. Nature’s Laws are what keep the community thriving. In effect, then, justice can only be done when all the details from all perspectives have been weighed and given an appropriate place. Thus, an 'event' cannot be comprehended nor defined until the larger context is known. Judgment can only be rendered when this information is known and discussed.

This is why proper judgment can only be give by a group of knowledgeable people from the community who accept that each of them might know some of the connections of the event; the perspective offered by each of them is required to present a balanced total picture. Such a view is the basis of the sentencing circle or the notion of fire justice (that is, the elders who sit around the main fire of the camp). At bottom, then, such a conception demonstrates that Nature's Law operates within quite different parameters than, say, our reliance on a criminal charge of murder, defined by the act of killing someone at that moment at that time.

Furthermore, it implies a system that puts much greater weight on community knowledge and understanding. The rules are not imposed upon someone who is unaware of the importance of obedience to a protocol…from childhood, the social and cultural forms of Indigenous society are discussed, debated, wrestled with and acknowledged, so that everyone within a community knows the boundaries of proper behaviour. The most trenchant example of this area of knowledge relates to kinship.

Finally, it should be noted that kinship is larger than the living blood relations in one's immediate family. From the Indigenous perspective, "all my relations" means indeed "all:" ancestors, neighbours, adopted individuals, people belonging to the animals of one group of clans, family members both alive now and in the future, greater-than-human beings, tricksters and indeed anyone with whom one has a special relationship.

Obviously, then, the English word "family" and "kin group" does not encompass the entire range of relational law. For purposes of this account, we have limited the discussion primarily to marriage and kinship, but it should be cautioned that doing so seriously restricts the notion of relational law.

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