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Nature's Law
Spiritual Life, Governance, Culture, Traditions, Resources, Context and Background
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Indigenous Testimony
Linguistic Basis

Historical Evidence

Oral Tradition



Recent Legal

Visual representation of nature's laws

"I am an Indian. I am proud to know who I am and where I originated. I am proud to be a unique creation of the Great Spirit. We are part of Mother Earth…We have survived, but survival by itself is not enough. A people must also grow and flourish."

Thus said Chief John Snow, Chief of the Stony east of Calgary. His statement highlights the sense of place and the significance of being part of a sacred creation. The legacy of Indigenous memory remains with us to today…the central issue is how do we acknowledge and incorporate that memory into our Canadian law.

Many of the basic concepts found in the sources and expressed long ago are found today in the words of elders and chiefs whose vision reflects the spiritual legacy of the old people. Chief Howard Mustus, former Chief of the Alexis First Nation, and president of the Yellowhead Tribal Council at a conference on Native Law, outlined the traditional view in this way at the First Nation Treaty Justice Association Conference, Edmonton, May 11, 2004. What he says indicates considerable continuity with the oldest sources we have available to us. This is evidence that, while much history has occurred, that the legal perceptions have remained fairly constant. While some of the notions are geared to the contemporary situation, i.e. the reference to Treaty, the fact is that most of the ideas he expresses continue a long legacy of legal comprehension that can be found in most indigenous expressions of Nature’s Law; here is his statement:

We have to realize that the authority for Treaty-making is our spiritual beliefs. When we commit ourselves by smoking the pipe, that is the highest commitment that we can make. A soon as you recognize the spiritual beliefs, you understand the way that Natural law functions for Indigenous peoples: Above all else is the Creator…the power that brought all this to be. Recognizing this supreme authority in the universe creates a process of awareness about where responsibility comes from and the source to which we owe our responsible actions. Once we acknowledge that source of authority, then we realize that the pipe is the validator of the process, because the pipe smoke and the smudge smoke carries our commitments to the Creator. So the pipe stands above those of us who are on Mother Earth and directs our voice to the Creator. Once the process has been sanctified by the pipe, then commitments are made and you can not go back on your commitments. You had to practice that day in and day out. That’s part of Nature’s Law.

This means that we have Mother Earth from whom to learn about Nature’s Law. She teaches us about the proper process. Nature’s Law is a type of blueprint on how the universe works, and how collective society is to work. We need to draw wisdom and heed the warnings from Nature’s Law that are found in the workings of Mother Earth. This process was bred into the tribe…it was rehearsed over and over again in various contexts, so that everyone learned its spiritual meaning. We had to learn that the process itself always had to be for the collective betterment of the people. We had to learn that the spiritual teachings gave us the ability to enter into treaties, that this natural force gave us the power to enter into Treaty. Finding out about Nature’s Laws is difficult work, and requires self-discipline. We need elders committed to the old process of gaining knowledge based on our spiritual beliefs. When we understand Nature’s Law, we will know how best to govern ourselves, because what we see in Nature’s Law is the process by which we can learn. We will understand then that in Nature’s Law, you are never done learning. We will also understand how important language is to us. We need the language to understand the message of Nature’s Law, because the language is based on the process outlined above. There is a reason why the old people know so much about our way of life…it is because they know the language well…the very old people could understand because they had the language that gave them insights into the natural order. Once they had the language, they had the authority from Nature’s Law to enter into treaties, to use sanctions, etc. That’s why the written text of our Treaties doesn’t express the full extent of their understanding of what was involved in the treaty, because the written text can’t provide the same richness as the language.

At the same time, we must realize that even Indigenous authorities today have been impacted upon by the images, perceptions and stereotypes of the culture within which they live. They will express ideas in terms that relate to North American cultural expectations…that is the only way they can communicate. Many do not know well their ancestral language, and by extension, their ancestral culture. They offer, nevertheless, the continuing process of re-interpretation that they are engaged in as they try to move their people on down the traditional road. It is also an expression of the rise of a generation of leaders whoop find much of value in the old ways…as Ross notes: "… the elders were once again coming forward to help the young people learn what they needed to know to ‘live a good life’ …" (Ross, Returning, 10)

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