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Nature's Law
Spiritual Life, Governance, Culture, Traditions, Resources, Context and Background
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The Elements of Knowledge: Social Memory and the Application of Law
Natural and Super Natural

Resistance to Categorizing Reality


Law and Landscape

Good Medicine

Social Memory

Meaning of Time

Visual representation of nature's laws

Another important finding in this research is that the reason laws were not codified was not the lack of social memory and its ability to systematize data. Rather it was because the reality in which they operated was deemed too changing and variable for such a system to obtain. No one had an absolute perspective from which to proclaim such a code. Rather than abstract norms, such as those expressed by the ancient Hebrews in the Ten Commandments, for example, Indigenous expressions were rooted in case examples mediated to the group through the collective memory of the community. A good summary of this principle is found in the following:

"The highest compliment or tribute they could pay a speaker was to say of him or her ‘w’daeb-wae’, taken to mean ‘he/she is right, correct, accurate, truthful.’ It is an expression approximating the work for ‘truth’ in the English language, except that it means one casts one’s knowledge as far as one has perceived it and as accurately as one can describe it, given one’s command of language. Beyond this one cannot go. According to this understanding, there can be no such thing as absolute truth" (Basil Johnson’s intro to Dancing with a Ghost - )

The moral norms implicit in this judicial wisdom was passed on through storytelling, not through the development of certain "test cases" that then took on normativeness and eventually gave rise to abstract codes. As Cruikshank points out:

"Oral traditions survive by repeated tellings, and each narrative contains more than one message. The listener is part of the storytelling event too, and is expected to think about and interpret the messages in the story. A good listener will bring different life experiences each time he or she hears it and will learn different things each time. Oral tradition is like a prism which becomes richer as we improve our ability to view it from a variety of angles. It does not try to spell out everything one needs to know, but rather to make the listener think about ordinary experiences in new ways." (1991, 12)

It follows that a case was not a straight re-telling of all pertinent details. To imply that one could do that is to imply that one has knowledge of all frames of reference relevant to the story, or at least one has complete view of all perspectives of this distant occurrence. Indigenous wisdom was too modest to make such claims, or at least too aware that there could be many conflicting frames to evaluate an important case. So Nature’s Law would be very reluctant to assign the place that we give to some basic principles, like "Thou shalt not lie," for the simple reason that no one could know what the ‘lie’ was unless it was experienced in a particular case, and then the understanding would require that it apply to that case rather than to establishing a fixed code about lying. True, the Indigenous accepted that this case was an example of lying, but they did not then go on to draw the conclusion that all lying was bad. It is precisely this variability of the frameworks of testimony that makes our designation in court of guilty or not guilty so artificial to Indigenous peoples. They have no word for such a concept.

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