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Nature's Law
Spiritual Life, Governance, Culture, Traditions, Resources, Context and Background
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The Elements of Knowledge: The Basis of Law is Relatedness
Natural and Super Natural

Resistance to Categorizing Reality


Law and Landscape

Good Medicine

Social Memory

Meaning of Time

Visual representation of nature's laws

Given the difficulties in knowledge transfer from one system to another, how are we to proceed? Many contemporary analysts argue as we do (Ross does in the previous quotation), for example: some Indigenous conceptions of law are diametrically opposed to key elements of our legal system. In his study of the Comanche legal system, Hoebel made the point almost 30 years ago:

"No prevailing concept of the nature of law as given in current definitions will fit the facts as we find them in Comanche society. The ideology of orthodox political science and jurisprudence, expressed in terms of ‘command of the sovereign,’ ‘rules of the state,’ and ‘obligation imposed by the lawmaker’ have no meaning here. In Comanche society reciprocity is not developed to an exaggerated degree…(my italics) Without courts and without strongly developed obligations of reciprocity to serve as criteria of law, what then is there in Comanche practice that can be identified with what can reasonably be considered ‘law’? A social norm is legal if its neglect or infraction is met by the application, in threat or in fact, of the absolute coercive force by a social unit possessing the sociality recognized of so acting." (Hoebel 187-188).

Hoebel was trying to account for the function of law among the Algonquin-speaking Comanche without reference to any spiritual concept, and without addressing worldview differences. His work was to examine how people were made to conform to a law. As valid as this approach is in demonstrating that these peoples had a vital system of law, his ultimate conception of law as the construction of coercion has not been replicated in the findings of our research into the ground of Indigenous law.

The central position found in this research is that, in the first instance, law does not arise out of social situations at all, but out of a deep sense of relatedness to an entire environment. We cannot talk of Indigenous perceptions of law unless we are willing to shift the focus away from law as norms and boundaries established within the history of individuals or groups as they developed in time. In effect, we must be prepared to look away from the social and human construction of law. Our study suggests that the interconnectedness implicit in an ecosystem is a legitimate starting point in trying to comprehend Indigenous law. We are reminded of the famous words of Roscoe Pound, internationally recognized philosopher of law:

"…the Major agencies of social control are morals, religion and law. In the beginning of law, these are not differentiated. Even in so advanced a civilization as that of the Greek city-state, the same word is used to mean religious rites, ethical custom, the traditional course of adjusting relations, the legislation of the city, and all these looked on as a whole, as we should say, including all these agencies of social control under one term which we now translate law." (quoted by Archibald, Coyote Learns, 237).

This is what we have found: moral, law, religion are intertwined. Thus one conclusion that can be drawn is that Pound’s intertwined version of reality closely tracks what elders and Indigenous intellectuals have called "Nature’s Law." That term must be recognized as encompassing elements that we might today be uncomfortable or regard as illogical in analyzing together.

Nor can we mentally engage with Nature’s Law unless we accept that, unlike our system, the notion of reciprocity is not the crucial motivator in determining how one is to act in the "natural" environment. Nature’s Law exists to articulate a meaningful and valuable life-way, not to equalize the playing field. From the Indigenous perspective, Nature’s Law seems to call all human consciousness back again and again to basic intuitions about this natural system of meaning rather than to the validation of a system of behaviour that will coerce people into obedience to a community standard, or urge compliance for some public good. This is not to say that reciprocality had no application in Nature’s Law…in general, while the evidence is, on the whole, contrary to Hoebel’s opinion of the weakness of reciprocity… indeed reciprocity was held (and continues to be) firmly fixed to the complex web of relationships that governed the cosmos, even within the Comanche. In other words, the Indigenous worldview comprehended reciprocity as rooted in the natural law of the universe, not as a socially-constructed norm controlling inter-personal relationships.

What was key was this: the intuition of relatedness was more basic to the system than the consciousness of reciprocity, because relatedness was essential for the notion of balance. Reciprocity could not function without the conception of required balance operating within Indigenous law, for it mediated the centrifugal elements of reciprocity. Thus Indigenous notions of Nature’s Law were based in the first instance on what we would call intuitions about worldview. Worldview operated on the basis that everything was in a balanced system of relationships. Everything was included in this system. Archibald sums up the complexity of this perspective using the symbol of concentric circles:

"The image of a circle is used by many First Nations peoples to symbolize wholeness, completeness, and ultimately wellness. The never ending circle also forms concentric circles to show the synergistic influence and responsibility to the generations of Ancestors, the generations of today, and the generations yet to come. The animal/human kingdoms, the elements of Nature/land, and the Spirit World are an integral part of the concentric circles. Each First Nations group has developed its own cultural content for the holistic circle symbol. However, the common goal has been to attain a mutual balance and harmony among animals, people, elements of nature, and the Spirit World. To attain this goal, ways of acquiring knowledge and codes of behavior, are of course essential and are embedded in cultural practices; one which plays a key role in the oral tradition is storytelling" (Archibald, Coyote Learns 14).

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