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Round Dances & the Law

Tansi Nîtôtemtik,

The law has faced many challenges over the last year, and many challenges have faced the law. We’ve seen discussions and tensions where the law meets social justice (here), pandemic restrictions, Wet’suwet’en land defenders (here), freedom convoys (here, and here) and the Emergencies Act–just to name a few.

With such divergence and breadth, it is no wonder the law means so many things to so many people. It can be hard, freeing, soft, oppressive, enlightening, complicated. Or as Darcy Lindberg writes, “Law can be beautiful.” [1]

And today, despite, or maybe because of all the happenings in the world, I choose to write about the beauty. Laws that are beautiful and fantastical[2] and deeply rooted in community and love.

Such laws are not hard to find. They exist everywhere. They are in the relationships we hold close, the land we walk, the words we speak to our babies, the ways we walk in this world.

Knowing the law is all around us, not just in courtrooms, legislation, in books in Latin on dusted shelves, is beautiful in itself.

Laws that live through life; those laws are my favourite.

Round dances are full of these laws.

Hands joined, dancing clockwise, to the drum in the centre of the circle.

There is something beautiful about community gathering, hands linked to both old friends and new ones, an unbroken circle, moving in unison around the heartbeat of the drum. A powerful illustration of the beauty of love and community at work.

And within that beauty, the law is woven.

From the stickman who guides the dance to the drummers and singers who share their songs, to the community who brings their feast bags and breaks bread amongst one another – law exists. The seating of elders, the blankets on the bleachers, the giveaway all hold their own laws. The ones passed down from generation to generation. Laws rooted in ancestral knowledge and Indigenous ways of being.

The law is never very far in a round dance. And these laws are best learned through the living of them, through listening to the stories of Elders, the smells of tanned moosehide, the beads in every piece of wearable art.

These are laws that can be written of course, shared in this way; passed down through academic literature, in case law, and courses.

Wahkotowin can and has been defined through the written word. As shared by Matt Wildcat “it is a worldview based on the idea that all of existence is animate and full of spirit. Since everything has spirit it means we are connected to the rest of existence and live in a universe defined by relatedness.”[3] Its law however is given life not through the words on the paper but through the warm hugs of relatives welcoming you. It can be written but is best heard through the endless laughter at tables filled with aunties, stew, and bannock. It can be described but it is best felt.

The law is never very far in a round dance. Wahkotowin has never been closer.

All you need is to close your eyes and reach your hand out to the community.

Learn the law through the dance.

That’s the beauty of Indigenous laws.

Until next time,

Casey & ReconciliACTION YEG

Artwork: In Neither Hope Nor Despair, Birds Fly - Christi Belcourt (2022)

[1] Darcy Lindberg, “Miyo Nêhiyâwiwin (Beautiful Creeness) Ceremonial Aesthetics and Nêhiyaw Legal Pedagogy” (2018) 16/17 Indigenous Law Journal 51 at 53

[2] Ibid.

[3] Matt Wildcat, “Wahkotowin in Action” (2018) 27(1) Constitutional Forum at 14.

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