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Tasty law, gorgeous law: can you eat it with a fork?

Photo Credit: Markus Thompson (Haka Magazine)

Tansi Nîtôtemtik, good morning everyone,

Today we are talking about how we experience law. Is it tough? Is it crunchy? Cold like winter ice, or melting like spring? Does it smell like sage and sweetgrass, or anti-septical linoleum? Is law a dozen voices singing in harmony, a banging gavel, or a trumpeting swan? Can you eat law with a fork? Is it gorgeous?

Professor John Borrows publicly shares a teaching that law *is* sometimes melting like spring.

Here's a little story:

"Where John Borrows comes from in Ontario, the Anishinaabe call this warm, late-spring weather aabawaa. [Alright, if you are in Treaty 6, 7, or 8, it is not "warm, late-spring," but let's all just imagine, wouldn't that be nice?] As things begin to melt and flow again, the meeting of hot and cold air masses can make it foggy and difficult to see.

In Ojibway, the word for this weather phenomenon also makes its way into the language of human relationships and legal practice: aabawaa-wendam means forgiveness.

“With forgiveness, as with the land, there are mists between people [...] The word refers to a time when you can’t yet see clearly. But as the ice and snows recede, it’s time to begin to reconstruct your relationship given what happened in the winter of your conflict.""[1]

Beautiful law, tasty law

When the earth is your legal casebook, you can notice beautiful lessons everywhere - sometimes hard lessons, too - and law has many smells, sounds, tastes, and looks. [2]

This is a lesson that Otter knows well. Otter travelled the world to learn about Indigenous law. Fortunately, you can go with Otter if you want, by reading this book that Professor Lindsay Borrows kindly helped Otter write (that's my understanding anyway, maybe Professor Borrows and Otter have their own ideas). [3]

At different times, Otter found law to be cold, and warm, and sharp, and tasty, and wet, and rocky, and full of voices. At least one time, it was truly gorgeous.

In case you are wondering how an Otter or a fog comes into law at all, Leslie Marmon Silko reminds us that beauty, joy, and stories are not superficial, and definitely not just for children:

"I will tell you something about stories...

They aren’t just entertainment. Don’t be fooled.


The only cure

I know

is a good ceremony."


Law can be woven all through ceremony, story, and the breath-taking beauty of the world around us - and the not-so-beautiful life experiences connected with law, too.

So can you eat it with a fork?

Relating to stories and to the earth isare something to do: part of practicing law. Ceremony can be a way to practice Indigenous law that leans into beauty. Professor Darcy Lindberg talks about Nêhiyaw (Cree) ceremony like this:

"we are gifted with the richness of legal teachings these beautiful acts provide"

For Professor Lindberg, Miyo Nêhiyâwiwin (Beautiful Creeness) isn't just a coating on top. He explores how it is a practice that is a part of Nêhiyaw culture and learning about law:

"Law can be beautiful. It can even be imaginative and seem fantastical. [...] beauty is essential. To trace the legal practices of Nêhiyaw people through stories, songs, ceremonies, artistic renderings, languages, and teachings is to be introduced to a lineage of Nêhiyaw resiliency." [6]

Now, I am not Nêhiyaw, and I can't speak to the content of Nêhiyaw or other Indigenous law. But I wonder if, in a ceremony, one might learn a lesson about law through sharing the gifts of nourishment.

Maybe, even eating this lesson of law with a fork.

Just like John Borrows helped teach a lesson about law in the mists of late spring, eating with a fork might be an experience that helps people learn, share and notice law.

The cultures of law we practice

Whether beautiful or not, the whole-body experience and practice of law matter.

When a judge dons black robes (or red and white trimmed ones [7]) and sits above, looking down on lawyers and witnesses in a courtroom, that is one experience of law. When a lawyer hands a client a cup of coffee, that is another experience of law.

When an Elder hands a family member a plate of bannock and tells a story, that is another experience of law. When water keepers walk the shore, or students sweat while they write a law school exam together, those are still other experiences of law.

(And let me tell you, in my experience, at least one of those occasions is delicious, and at least one of them smells like anti-septical linoleum.)

How the experience of law looks, feels, smells, and tastes is an important part of law. Whether the experience of law is inviting, friendly, safe, gorgeous - or not - changes how law works, and what we as human beings can do with it.

That's why this month we're talking about culture in the context of law.

We hope you will join us and maybe even share a little bit about how you experience law, and your hopes for the future. What law is tasty and gorgeous to you? What is it like to experience that law in your life?

We welcome your questions and stories as we go!

Kinanâskomitin, thank you for reading and take care,

Hero and the ReconciliACTION team

[1] Suzanne Ahearne, "Drawing law from the land" (2017), online: University of Victoria <>.

[2] John Borrows, Canada’s Indigenous Constitution (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010).

[3] Lindsay Borrows, Otter’s Journey through Indigenous Language and Law (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2018).

[4] Leslie Marmon Silko, “Ceremony” (1977) cited in Elma D. Moses, Dancing with Chikapesh: An Examination of Eeyou Stories through Three Generations of Storytellers (Ph.D. Thesis, McGill University Faculty of Education, 2012) at 11-12.

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

[6] Ibid (same as above) at 53.

[7] "Supreme Court of Canada" (2012), online: Supreme Court of Canada <>.

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