Against a backdrop which includes the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations regarding Indigenous law; the legal space opened by the Tsilhqot’in decision; and the ongoing application by Indigenous peoples of their ancestral laws to contemporary environmental challenges, in 2016 we launched the RELAW project (Revitalizing Indigenous Law for Land, Air and Water).
RELAW is a project of West Coast Environmental Law, supported and advised by the Indigenous Law Research Unit at the University of Victoria, Faculty of Law (ILRU). West Coast and the ILRU share the fundamental belief that Indigenous law is law, that Indigenous laws are part of living Indigenous legal orders, and that Indigenous law can and should be used on the ground today.
We understand the process of articulating, revitalizing and applying Indigenous law to be collaborative and deliberative, and we are committed to deepening community-based capacity to engage in this process.
In recognition of the deep connections of Indigenous peoples to the lands and waters of their territories, and their right and responsibility to manage them according to their respective laws and governance systems, the RELAW project has a particular focus on aspects of Indigenous legal orders related to lands and resources management. Learning from traditional narratives and case studies, participants gain skills and knowledge to assist their nations in the process of revitalizing and applying Indigenous laws to contemporary environmental problems and proactive land and resource decision-making.
Through the RELAW project, participating Indigenous nations work with community researchers and lawyers to develop a written summary of legal principles related to environmental governance and land and resources for their nation, if they have not already done so. In addition to learning opportunities, nations have the opportunity to work together with a team of lawyers in an ‘on-the-ground’ way, applying their laws to a particular environmental issue or aspect of land and resource management. This work may involve the development of a contemporary Indigenous law instrument (like a written policy, standard or plan) to address the issue, serving as a bridge between the nation’s own laws and governance systems and on-the-ground enforcement.
Participating nations have access to a year of pro-bono legal research and advice from West Coast lawyers experienced with environmental, Aboriginal and Indigenous law.