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Weaving Legal Traditions: An Animated Insight into Canada's Multi-Juridical Identity

Animation created by Olive Bensler.

A multi-juridical nation is composed of many legal orders. Civil and common law traditions with European origins define Canada's dominant legal system. Settlers transplanted these two systems onto this territory in a manner that denied the existence of longstanding Indigenous legal orders.

Even though Indigenous laws have largely been unrecognized, Canada is a multi-juridical nation. Indigenous legal traditions pre-date others and continue to be embraced by Indigenous communities, along with those working to revitalize Indigenous laws. Indigenous jurisprudence should be more effectively implemented across the country in order for our multi-juridical nation to be a better representation of Canada’s actual juridical system. One of the challenges in calling for greater recognition of Canada's multi-juridical identity is envisioning what that looks like. This week's animation envisions what a multi-juridical nation might look like.

Symbol 1: We need to ‘tri’ harder.

One image that comes to mind when discussing a multi-juridical nation is a tri-juridical nation. This image arises from the assumption that Indigenous law, like common and civil legal practices, refers to one legal origin. The first shape of a pie in three equal slices represents this inaccurate understanding.

Indigenous law refers to the diverse practices of Nations across Canada. Sources of Indigenous law include Nation-specific singing, dancing, stories, oral histories, art, traditions, ceremony, and more. Treating Indigenous law as a single practice is like referring to "European law" as if all European countries practice the same approach. While there may be parallels between various Indigenous legal traditions, this does not mean we can clump them all together.

Symbol 2: Stronger Together

In the animation, the pie splits into several strands, which weave into one piece.

Inspired by Darcy Lindberg's imagery of Law as legal institutions acting like strands in a braid, this drawing represents various legal systems braided together. Unlike a simple three-strand braid, this approach recognizes the complexity and strength conveyed when we weave traditions together.

Notably, the red strands identify the diversity of Indigenous legal practices. The common law and civil law traditions each have one white strand. While no single strand is any more responsible for creating the piece, it is evident that - in this visual - a multi-juridical nation may be envisioned as one where Indigenous laws are much more prevalent than they are in our current system.

Mixing art and legal terminology can be challenging, but this week's artwork aimed to help visualize what multi-juridicism in Canada could look like.


John Borrows, “Living Legal Traditions” from Canada’s Indigenous Constitution (2010).

Darcy Lindberg, “(Re)bundling nêhiyaw âskiy: Nêhiyaw Constitutionalism Through Land Stories” in Sujith Xavier et al, Decolonizing Law: Indigenous, Third World and Settler Perspectives (Routledge, 2021).

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