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Hadley Friedland: "One of the Most Innovative Scholars Working with Indigenous Legal Traditions"

Tansi Nîtôtemtik,

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) tells us that reconciliation requires “real societal change”, including “the revitalization of Indigenous law and legal traditions.”[1]

This week on the blog, we are recognizing individuals and organizations at the forefront of efforts to revitalize Indigenous laws and legal traditions.

Today, we introduce Professor Hadley Friedland, co-founder of the Wahkohtowin Law and Governance Lodge (the “Lodge”) (see Monday’s blog for more about the Lodge) and Associate Professor at the University of Alberta Faculty of Law.[2]

Professor Friedland has worked extensively with Indigenous communities across Canada to identify and articulate their own laws.[3]

Professor Friedland holds a Child and Youth Care diploma from MacEwan University, an LLB from the University of Victoria and an LLM and PhD from UofA.[4] Dr. Friedland also helped establish the Indigenous Law Research Unit (the “ILRU”) at the University of Victoria Faculty of Law, which we have also spoken about in a previous blog.[5]

During her time at the ILRU, Professor Friedland and Professor Val Napoleon (see Wednesday’s blog) began developing a methodology for revitalizing Indigenous laws through community-based projects.[6] The narrative analysis method (the “Method”) is a 4-phased approach: (1) starting with a specific research question; (2) case analysis; (3) creating a framework – primer, synthesis and legal theory; and (4) implementation, application and critical evaluation.[7]

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The Method starts by identifying a practical question about managing or solving a problem to which a community desires to apply Indigenous legal analysis.[8] While Indigenous legal principles can be found in many different places, as discussed in a previous blog, the Method concentrates primarily on identifying and articulating legal principles from stories.[9] In stage (2), building on work by John Burrows, the Method adapts the common-law “case method” technique to identify legal principles from the analysis of published stories and oral tradition within the legal order of the partner community.[10] In stage (3), the legal information is then synthesized into groupings such as legal process, authoritative decision makers, rights and responsibilities, etc.[11] In stage (4), the Method uses the preliminary legal theory or synthesis identified in stage (3) as a starting point for community engagement. This process ensures researchers are not showing up empty-handed.[12] The engagement phase includes interviews and focus groups with knowledge keepers, leaders, elders and other community members. Stories and the legal knowledge contained within them are critically reflected upon and applied to the real-life problem(s). The results and reflections are fed back into the legal synthesis in an ongoing process that “is live, tested and challenged, critically legitimized and validated, and where necessary, changed.”[13]

The Method has been criticized by some who say that stories are not meant to be taken apart and boiled down to their legal constituents or be changed.[14] Professor Friedland, and others, believe that “for respectful and useful engagement to occur, the law in Indigenous legal traditions must be treated substantively as law – to be debated, applied, interpreted, argued, analyzed, criticized, and changed.”[15]

Professor Friedland and Professor Napoleon’s experience shows that the Method “holds great potential as a pedagogical bridge “into” respectful engagement with Indigenous laws and legal thought, within and across Indigenous, academic, and professional communities.”[16] Professor Friedland also notes that the Method is not meant to supplant existing learning or revitalization techniques, but to supplement them.[17]

Professor Friedland and Professor Napoleon have already had great success with the Method in many communities.[18]

The Method has also formed the basis for other innovative methods for reinvigorating Indigenous laws, including the linguistic method being developed by Lindsay Borrows.[19]

In her book The Wetiko Legal Principles, Professor Friedland critically analyses Cree and Anishinabek traditions to identify and apply Indigenous legal principles to child sexual victimization cases.[20]

In the book’s foreword, Professor John Borrows notes that the work has helped communities and legal professionals build a better understanding of Cree and Anishinabek legal traditions.[21] He describes Professor Friedland as “one of the most innovative scholars working with Indigenous legal traditions in the world today.”[22]

We couldn’t agree more.

Until next time,

Team Reconcili-ACTION YEG

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[1] Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future: Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada” (Winnipeg: Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015).

[2] University of Alberta, “Hadley Friedland, LLB, LLM, PhD” (accessed 22 February 2023), online: University of Alberta Directory <> [].

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] See Hadley Friedland and Val Napoleon, “Gathering the Threads: Developing a Methodology for Researching and Rebuilding Indigenous Legal Traditions” (2015) 1(1) Lakehead Law Journal 33 [Threads]; See also Lindsay Borrows, “Otter’s Journey through Indigenous Language and Law” (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2018) [Otter’s Journey].

[7] Threads, supra note 6 at 20.

[8] Ibid at 20.

[9] Ibid at 22.

[10] Ibid at 22.

[11] Otter’s Journey, supra note 6 at xiv.

[12] Threads, supra note 6 at 22.

[13] Ibid at 33.

[14] Otter’s Journey, supra note 6 at xiv.

[15] Val Napoleon and Hadley Friedland, “An Inside Job: engaging with Indigenous Legal Traditions Through Stories” (2016) 61:4 McGill LJ 725 at 739 [Inside Job]; Otter’s Journey, supra note 6 at xiv.

[16] Inside Job, supra note 15 at 725, 734; see also Otter’s Journey, supra note 6 at xiv, 178.

[17] Inside Job, supra note 15 at 725.

[18] See Ibid; see also Threads, supra note 6; see also Otter’s Journey, supra note 6 at xiv, 178.

[19] Otter’s Journey, supra note 6 at xiv.

[20] Hadley Louise Friedland, The Wetiko Legal Principles: Cree and Anishinabek Responses to Violence and Victimization (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018).

[21] Ibid, at xi.

[22] Ibid, at xi.

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