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Innovative Indigenous environmental law project seeking new partners

Monday, July 30, 2018

RELAW project works with Indigenous nations to revitalize Indigenous environmental laws

VANCOUVER, BC, Coast Salish Territories – West Coast Environmental Law is pleased to accept Expressions of Interest from Indigenous nations and individuals for the 2018-2019 cohort of the RELAW (Revitalizing Indigenous Law for Land, Air and Water) project.

The RELAW project was launched in 2016 with the support of the Indigenous Law Research Unit (ILRU) at the University of Victoria. The project collaborates with First Nations that are revitalizing their own laws to make decisions concerning the environment.

“Indigenous law is different from ‘Aboriginal’ law, which typically refers to Canadian laws affecting Indigenous peoples, such as the Canadian Constitution, the Indian Act, judicial interpretations of treaties, and so on. RELAW is about researching and implementing Indigenous peoples’ own laws – ancient laws that are still alive today. It’s a decolonizing process,” said Maxine Matilpi, Project Lead for RELAW at West Coast Environmental Law.

From banning proposed heavy oil pipelines and denying consent for industrial projects following their own in-depth review processes, to upholding tribal park designations or safeguarding the herring fishery, Indigenous nations are increasingly taking action grounded in their own laws.

Canada is a multi-juridical country, which means that there are different legal systems and traditions working within its geographical boundaries. Most people are familiar with the common law and civil (Quebec) law traditions. However, there is increasing recognition of another body of law: Indigenous law.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission speaks to the recognition and integration of Indigenous law. And in September 2018, the University of Victoria’s Faculty of Law will launch a brand new program in Indigenous law.

“In the words of Doug White III (Kwulasultun), of the Snuneymuxw First Nation: ‘Indigenous law is the great project of Canada and it is the essential work of our time’,” said Matilpi.

Indigenous nations participating in RELAW will have access to a year of pro bono legal services and learning opportunities for community members. In 2018-2019, priority for new projects will be given to work focusing on water governance, marine and coastal stewardship law, or regional assessment and planning – including the development of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas.

Expressions of Interest should be submitted by August 31, 2018. Details about the RELAW project and how to apply are available at


For more information, please contact:

Maxine Matilpi, JD, LL.M | RELAW Project Lead, West Coast Environmental Law

Additional resources:

Short film - RELAW: Living Indigenous Laws