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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

Relational law – in Cree, wahhkotowak, the act of being related to each other – has a number of areas connected to this category of First Nations understanding: kinship systems / family relationships (nehiyawewin/akayasemowin, or kiciniskehk, meaning ‘sacred power’), making things 'right,' systems of responsibility, respect, consent, reciprocity, etc. This section outlines some of the more important concepts among Algonquin, Athapaskan and Siouan-Speaking Peoples. Among the Cree people, this kind of law is said to deal with Kahkiyaw ni wahkomâkanâw or All my Relations.

Preamble to Relational Law

William Dreaver, a North Battleford Cree Elder recalled the stance taken by his ancestors at the time of treaty as conveyed to him by his grandfather.Here he outlines the several ingredients of Nature’s Law as it was passed on to him:

"And also, you can travel anywhere on this land, and you will not have to pay" is what the French Man told him. "You will not have to pay for anything." The old man said to me that we shouldn’t have to pay for license plates on this land, on the roads on our land. This is how I understand this issue based on what the Elders have said. I am relating what I was told in the past. I was entrusted with this information of what I am telling you. Our grandfathers never wrote anything. Today we do not own anything. I think that the white man does not have ownership here. Of what they own here, we have a greater right to ownership on this land (than they). I am not scolding anyone but I am relating a story.

They have created laws for us, for all of us Indian people and they have not finished. I think that the Elders have got to understand. I am not being superior to anyone in relating this story, my friends, but I am telling a story of what little I do know in the use of this land. It is true it (this land) has benefited me. I think that the white man should try to understand the natural law that our grandfather was raised on. It is a natural law that we do not really want to talk about. I was asked once in the white world what that meant, and I said that the little I understand that everything that is here was given to the old man and old woman... to the first ones who were born here, is what I am saying.

Nobody knows what that means or what the value is for someone to understand, even a white lawyer does not understand of what I say, and what I understand. I am not saying that I know anything except what the old man said.

And also of what little that I do know, everything on this earth we need to survive is here; I still think this way. There is a lot there for us. This is why I think that it is time for the white man to try to understand of all that they have claimed on our land. I do not hate him for he is working for the same One who owns everything. I cannot say too much more for they will walk away too, the same as the French Man who came to deal with our grandfather.

This land was whole and good; there was no province at this time of Treaty 6. They called them different names like Treaty 8 and 7 for the white man conceived of that idea. It was not an Indian concept. We are all under the same laws; we all have the same rights. I am not preaching to you, but (under Nature’s Laws) I can take these logs to build a house to where I want to settle—that’s what our grandfather had said. You can take logs to build a house to live in—that’s what he had said. Today, the province ‘owns’ everything. I am not scolding but I am relating it to what I have heard about this story.

Another (aspect) is if a young man and a young woman are going to be together, the Queen’s representative is to give them tools with which to make a living. Cows were given earlier; this is what they said the Elders said where I was. They also were given animals (oxen) to use for a team, later horses were given, that is, Indian Affairs. They were also given assistance for raising children. Again I haven’t heard of anyone talking about this. But what I have seen about Indian Affairs was when someone got married, when I was up there was one woolen blanket, and that was all the help they provided for anyone raising children. Apparently the rule was that they were to have helped people with which to make a living, that is what the old man said. Today, that would be a tractor to help in livelihood and raising a family. We do not see this also, but I will stop here for now. I start getting angry when I telling about this story. I will stop for now, my friends. Ay hiy. (Mountain Cree Camp, 2002)

There are several important elements of Nature's Laws mentioned here. In effect, Indigenous people did (and do) have 'Nature's Laws,' but the codification of it resides in the collective memory of the elders. There has been much dispute about the oral nature of this memory, since for Western law, codification requires written language forms, which are deemed necessary to prevent change of meaning. However, written codification may preserve the letter of law, but not necessarily its spirit. Indigenous memory stresses the spirit of the law, and allows the articulation of it to be contextualized. It is the oldest and greatest minds in the community that preserve this meaning and the words they use on any given occasion to articulate the community truths are shaped for the context they are in at the time. Hence Elder William Dreaver can speak of "a tractor to help in livelihood and raising a family," thus placing the spirit of the law in a contemporary context.

Nor do Indigenous peoples regard Nature's Laws as working according to a certain definable human logic, machine-like, or according to scientific causality, like some might regard the Western legal system. This does not mean that Indigenous people have or had no law like Western law, it just means that they would not describe the concept of law in terms related to Western categories of law, nor Western categories of experience. For example, Nature's Laws also include greater-than-human creatures, ancestral spirits, and numinous entities in the world, like powerful stones, and animals. All of these could be conceived of as 'relations' in Nature's Law. Fundamentally, then, the community defines what relational law might mean in any given case.

Western law might recognize God, but it does not countenance cases being made on the basis of spirit beings or sacred locations (Western legal tradition does accept an 'act of God' as having legal force, despite the fact that the people involved may not believe in God). Even then, it is evident that the relevance of God to any particular case would be severely restricted in court. For example, Western law could not accept that God or the Sacred World is the ‘cause’ of someone’s personal action against someone else, yet it is quite logically possible from a Indigenous perspective. This is because Indigenous people have always held that some people do things because they have spirit helpers who help them do things.

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