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Law is a tool to solve problems. Here's how.

Tansi Nîtôtemtik, hello everyone!

Often, great justice hides in plain sight. Imagine the stories: "Patron takes deep breath, avoids bar fight!" "Sober driver slows down, prevents accident!" "Toxins safely recycled!" When these beautiful things happen, it is rarely big news.

Teacher and People, Val Napoleon

But in this little blog we are going to take the time to celebrate!

This week, we are thankful and hold space for the good moments. Our topic is prevention as justice. There's a great deal of preventative work being done. As you might guess, for every good moment of prevention, we could use a thousand more. Even so, the good work persists.

So what's going well? We are continuously inspired by the work Indigenous communities are leading to revitalize Indigenous laws. [1] To explore what that means, we can learn from the example of Indigenous child welfare laws being re-articulated in the wake of Bill C-92 [2].

Saying we have a problem with child welfare is a huge understatement. The current child welfare system is part of the ongoing genocide of Indigenous people, continuing from residential schools [3].

In the face of this, we can take urgent action to support specific children. We can also prevent children from ending up in this system in the first place. This is where the revitalization of Indigenous law comes in. Val Napoleon explains why:

“law is something people do … [so] if it is not practical and useful to life … why bother?” [4]

Legal traditions change to adapt to the present, and Indigenous sources of law are no different. They hold wisdom for “real people dealing with real life” today. [5]

Let's say it again for the folks at the back: law is something people do, and we can use it to solve and prevent tough issues! Indigenous law can be used to address wicked problems experienced everyday in our communities.

But now comes the hard part. Colonial actors have made Indigenous legal systems illegal, illegitimate, and otherwise harmed them. [6] However, people still rely on their strength. [7] Sources of law are everywhere and enacted in many ways. For example, “natural laws show that law requires not only rules, but also the extra-legal work of developing good relationships as well.” [8]

So, Indigenous families that practice kinship care and adoption may be practicing their laws when they relate to children in this way. Others who articulate Indigenous laws in new ways may be practicing their laws. The Wrapping Our Ways Around Them: Indigenous Communities and Child Welfare Guidebook is one example of a project that uses legal revitalization as a way to support Indigenous children for generations to come. [9]

It's a big "IF," but Bill C-92 may provide an opportunity to further strengthen Indigenous legal orders in practice because it gives some space for Indigenous laws enacted by some First Nations to have some more force in the existing Canadian legal system. (Yes, that's a lot of qualification. For a breakdown of issues related to Bill C-92, see here). [10] This is not a catch-all solution, but there are Indigenous Nations making an opportunity of Bill C-92 to assert their own child welfare laws. With enormous challenges and lives at stake, we hold hope that more good prevention work can take root.

Most importantly, we thank all those - whether we know them or not - for their tireless and honourable work with Indigenous legal systems. Your kinship and advocacy keeps Indigenous children safe and connected to their communities. We know it is challenging, but for every good step you are taking, we encourage you to keep going and take a thousand more. Know that as you go, many of us walk alongside you. Your work is inspiring more and more people to walk with you.

If you have stories of good prevention and law-in-action that you'd like to celebrate, we would love to hear from you!

Take care,

Hero & the ReconciliACTION team

p.s. Last week, a reader asked to learn more about the whole ReconciliACTION team. Meet our Fall 2021/ Winter 2022 writers here: Amanda, Amy, Hero, Gavin, Liz and Casey.

[1] Here's a small video introduction to Indigenous law, and some resources on revitalizing Indigenous law. We would also like to note that for some, the word "revitalize" has lost its sense because, like reconciliation, it can be used as a buzzword that ends up meaning nothing at all. For more on this difficulty, see this set of blogs on the meaning of reconciliation. In today's blog, we're talking about the process of identifying, reconnecting, honouring, and applying Indigenous laws in specific communities, whatever words they may choose to apply. This blog is definitely not the final word on how different communities wish to describe their own laws and legal processes!

[2] To learn a little bit about Bill C-92, you can read this blog post.

[3] For more on the shared roots of residential schools and current child welfare systems, you can read this blog post or this collection of blogs on child welfare.

[5] Ibid. (Ibid just means 'same source as the last reference')

[6] A brief overview of 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act is one place to learn more about colonial actions taken to harm Indigenous legal orders.

[7] The Squamish Nation is just one example of an Indigenous Nation applying its laws today. The Indigenous Law Research Unit and the Wahkohtowin Law and Governance Lodge are two places where you can find more examples.

[8] Lindsay Borrows, Preface and Introduction, Otter’s Journey through Indigenous Language and Law (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2018) at 21. If you are interested in revitalizing Indigenous law, reading this beautiful book is one way to learn more! We think Otter is a pretty good teacher :)

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