Indigenous Legal Traditions.


175 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-0-7748-1370-9
DDC 342.7108'.72





Reviewed by David Mardiros

David Mardiros is a lawyer and anthropological consultant in Kars,


It has become clear that if self-determination and self-government for indigenous peoples are to mean anything, the current system of community and regional governance will have to change. As this book points out, many current forms of self-determination and “self-government” either under the Indian Act or based on western corporate models have proved inappropriate and ineffective in helping most indigenous peoples escape the trap of colonialism. The book provides both theoretical and practice based discussions on how indigenous peoples can deal with the colonial state and assert their own values in the midst of the dominant legal tradition.


While the theoretical material provides a good framework for a critique of current approaches by the state legal system to understand and interpret indigenous legal traditions, where this volume breaks new ground is in the contributions that describe how local legal systems are actually functioning to maintain traditions, facilitate the transfer of knowledge and rights, and, where there is conflict, effect reconciliation in local communities.


Specific aspects of indigenous legal traditions in three areas of British Columbia (the Sto:lo of the Fraser River, the Gitxsan of the Bulkley Valley, and the Carrier of the Central Interior) are examined and provide fascinating examples of how indigenous traditions have continued to function both in environments where the state has recognized their authority to a greater to lesser extent (the Sto:lo) or where the traditions are functioning outside or in opposition to state sponsored processes (the Gitxsan).


Of particular interest here is the diversity not only of traditions but approaches to how indigenous legal systems can reassert their authority. Not all the contributors agree on how this can be accomplished—some favour solutions that take indigenous legal structures completely out of the Canadian state while others see solutions within the dominant political and legal institutions. This book is an example of the healthy debate that is occurring. The contributors agree, however, that while Aboriginal teachings have great potential to help establish new relationships based on mutual recognition and respect, in order to achieve this the dominant legal structure must create substantive space for indigenous legal traditions.


Law Commission of Canada., “Indigenous Legal Traditions.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 16, 2024,