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Background on RELAW Learning Partnerships

Indigenous nations participating in RELAW Learning Partnerships will have access to a year of pro bono (free) legal services and co-learning opportunities for community members focused on approaches to researching, applying and enforcing Indigenous law. Through RELAW, legally trained staff from West Coast work with community members selected by your nation to:

  • Draw on stories and the wisdom of elders to develop a summary of legal principles related to environmental governance and land and resources in your legal tradition;
  • Develop a written law, policy, agreement or plan grounded in your own laws and community dialogue, and/or
  • Develop and put into action a plan for implementing and enforcing your laws on a particular environmental or resource development issue.

In 2018-19 priority for new projects will be given to existing or new partners who:

  1. have previously developed a summary of legal principles related to environmental governance and land and resources using the ILRU methodology[1] (through RELAW or otherwise) and are seeking legal support to apply these principles to a particular environmental decision in the territory, or to develop a legal instrument like a written law, policy or plan, and,
  2. wish to focus their work on water governance, marine and coastal stewardship law, or regional assessment and planning. 

We also have a limited number of spaces for Indigenous nations who wish to undertake Indigenous law research to develop a summary of legal principles and to focus on one of the priority areas in applying this work once completed. Nations should be aware that projects involving both research and application are typically multi-year, and will likely require additional resourcing from sources other than RELAW. (Please contact us if you have questions about this).

Interested nations should submit an Expression of Interest form by midnight on August 31, 2018.

RELAW Learning Partnerships – Benefits to your community:

  • Training and legal resources to assist your nation in the process of revitalizing and applying your own laws to contemporary environmental decision-making and proactive land and resource management
  • Access to a year of pro-bono legal research and advice from lawyers experienced with environmental, Aboriginal and Indigenous law
  • Preparation of a written summary of legal principles related to environmental governance and land and resources for use by your nation (if you have not already done so)
  • An opportunity to consider how your own laws and legal processes should guide environmental decision-making in your territory today, learning from traditional narratives (stories) and case studies
  • Training and mentoring for one or more community-based facilitators (community guides) to assist in the process of accessing, articulating and applying your laws; community guides will co-lead the deliberative (community engagement) aspects of the work in the community, working with leaders, staff, elders, knowledge holders, community members and RELAW lawyers
  • A scholarship of up to $40,000 per nation based on need and circumstances to offset the costs to the nation of the community guide(s)’ salary during the RELAW project, as well as travel and expenses associated with attending RELAW learning sessions; more details about the community guide role may be found here.
  • Development of plain language legal resources about your own Indigenous laws for land, air and water
  • A place of pride, demonstrating the strengths and knowledge within your community

Additional benefits for nations who wish to undertake Indigenous law research:

  • Hands-on experience for starting and continuing your own community legal research based on your stories, oral histories and other resources
  • A community-based researcher will be hired and paid an hourly wage for their work on the project, including analyzing traditional narratives and assisting with the workshops and interviews within the community; training and ongoing mentoring will be provided (your community guide may also undertake this work)
  • Elders and knowledge keepers will be offered honorariums for their time
  • A written summary of legal principles related to environmental governance and land and resources will be prepared by RELAW lawyers and community researchers for use by your nation

What is required from your nation:

  • Logistical support for community meetings related to the project (e.g., meeting space, catering, transportation for elders, additional honoraria for meeting participation if required, billeting for resource people attending from outside the community if applicable)
  • Political, technical and logistical support for community guides and legal researchers (e.g., formal support from leadership for the project, office space, coordination with lands and resources/policy staff)
  • Salary costs beyond RELAW contributions. In our experience, projects that are able to involve two RELAW community guides to co-facilitate community processes and/or to split research and community engagement roles have the greatest likelihood of success.
  • Identification of an issue related to water governance, marine and coastal stewardship law, or regional assessment and planning that your nation wishes to address through the RELAW project, and an intention and commitment to engage in community decision-making processes to do so
  • Willingness to engage in a deep and deliberative process that sometimes might be hard (but rewarding) work.

For more information, please contact Maxine Matilpi at or 604-684-7378 (ext 226).


[1] The ILRU (Indigenous Law Research Unit) methodology is an approach to systematically accessing principles of Indigenous law through analysis of many traditional narratives (stories) and other sources related to a research question identified by an Indigenous community; using interviews and small group discussions to workshop learnings from the stories with knowledge holders and community members; and synthesizing these into a summary of substantive and procedural legal principles related to the research question. For an example of a full summary see: Revitalizing Indigenous Law for Land, Air and Water: St’át’imc Legal Traditions Report and for a summary report see: St’át’imc Legal Traditions Summary Report: What We Learned from the Stories and our Elders.