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What is RELAW?


The RELAW project recognizes that Indigenous legal orders offer perspectives and tools for solving complex problems. From banning proposed heavy oil pipelines and denying consent following their own in-depth review processes, to upholding tribal park designations or safeguarding the herring fishery, Indigenous nations are taking action grounded in their own laws. These actions have had a transformative impact on environmental decisions and major resource development projects in recent years.

In a context where colonialism has profoundly undermined Indigenous legal orders and governance systems and unsustainable resource extraction continues around us, the full revitalization and application of Indigenous law is a work in progress. Currently, the work of decolonizing law is happening on many fronts making this is an exciting time to be doing this work.

Our fundamental belief is that Indigenous law is law and 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. To that end, RELAW provides co-learning opportunities and legal support to Indigenous nations using their own laws to address environmental issues affecting their territories. RELAW is supportive of and supported by the Indigenous Law Research Unit (ILRU) at the University of Victoria.

Our first RELAW cohort made up of six Indigenous partners – the Secwepemc (Shuswap Nation Tribal Council), St’át’imc, Fort Nelson, Tsilhqo’tin, Tsawout and Gitga’at peoples – began in 2016. To learn more, see our 2016 RELAW Summer in Review, this short film, “Living Indigenous Laws,” or these short publications from participating nations telling the story of their RELAW projects:

You can learn about our second cohort here and find other stories on our website here.

Each RELAW project is based upon the Indigenous peoples’ own laws and decision-making processes. We work with our Indigenous partners and together we research their laws, summarize and draft legal principles and help communities decide how these principles should be applied on the ground.

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, RELAW has a particular focus on aspects of Indigenous legal orders related to lands and waters.

West Coast Environmental Law is a non-profit group of environmental law strategists, analysts and communicators working in the public interest and dedicated to safeguarding the environment through law. Our approach in RELAW is one of collaboration where we work with the Indigenous nation in a partnership valuing relationships and reciprocity.

We recognize the jurisdiction and laws of Indigenous peoples who have actively governed their territories for millennia, and the role of their land and marine stewardship in shaping the ecological conditions that have allowed all beings to thrive through time. Working side-by-side with them, we seek legal solutions that bridge between Canadian and Indigenous law to build greater sustainability for all.

RELAW contributes to the resurgence of Indigenous laws and our commitment to transforming the legal landscape in ways that are more sustainable, democratic and just.