Balance—In the case of the
Aboriginal people in Alberta, there existed an ecosystem
equilibrium involving social, "natural," and spirit dimensions.
There was a certain equilibrium in the cosmos with all beings,
from plants through to spirit beings, existing in a symbiotic
relationship. This was not a balance of equal beings, however.
For example, the democratic idea of equality of all people is a
pale reflection of this larger concept. First Nations political
life accepted the principle that the people that were on Turtle
Island had equal rights to live here, for they forged treaties
that assumed the equality of the participants.
On the other hand, not all persons were
equal…by the very fact that their gifts and roles differed.
Furthermore, the contemporary western notion of gender equality
could not apply, because gender was a feature that was
incorporated into a spiritual system…there could be apparent
inequities between men and women based on the principle of
fertility--- young women’s abilities to create life might also
destroy the livelihood of all men, young or old with the
unsanctioned use of her female power during the hunt or
ceremonies. That was a power no man had.
Such a conception ruled out our equality
between men and women on the basis of some notion of "humanity."
Rather, women went through transformations that took them from
being equal in power (pre-pubescent) to supremely powerful
(menstruating and child-bearing woman), to women equal in wisdom
and power with men (post-menopausal). In sum, equality was
governed by different rules and laws than we accept today, and
it was controlled by a system of understandings that we would
say had legal and spiritual force. Yet that entire system was
operating under the power of this basic sense of balance.
No one questioned that sense of
balance, and it constituted one of the roots by which the sacred
came to be known, acted upon and respected. It was the
responsibility of the medicine people and tribal leadership to
maintain the community in this spiritual sense of balance, and
it was their insights that provided assistance to the community
to debate and weight actions that might bring chaos to the
social order. Balance had immense ramifications across the whole
spectrum of Aboriginal affairs, and constituted a fundamental
aspect of legal thinking.
Harmony—Moreover, within the
band and tribe, the chief and elders attempted to keep a balance
between the individual rights of the family members and the
greater good of the group. Where there was a fundamental
conflict between the two, the decision was always to compromise
for the social good of the group. Hence social harmony was
another basic value of tribal life. Someone who insisted upon
his own way would have to face the logical outcome…the harmony
in this group was upset by his desires. If he felt strongly
enough about this, he then had one alternative: to leave and
form his own band. Personal independence of the sort the west
has come to prize is unknown in Nature’s Law…even the great
Plains warrior tradition placed limits on personal independent
activity, even as it glorified the extraordinarily courageous
act. Thus harmony is held to be a value reflecting the sacred in
Spirituality—A number of
values were held to have spiritual content, yet were applicable
to everyday human behaviour. It was expected that the people
would exemplify these values in order to aid in promoting
harmony and balance in their communities. These values can be
briefly mentioned as love, kindness, truth, respect, honesty,
patience, wisdom and humility; it would take considerable
explication to unpack what each of these meant within each of
the tribes in Alberta, for that would require examining acts
that were said to exemplify them, and likely each would have
tribal and cultural differences. Apart from that enormous fact,
however, it is essential to acknowledge that these norms and
values provided the riverbed for First Nations life…these are
sacred and no one would challenge the validity of them, even if
there were differences of opinion about their application to
individual cases. Incidentally, the importance of these norms
make it possible to see certain structural similarities to our
way of life and its legal system.