What is RELAW?

West Coast has been working with Indigenous nations throughout British Columbia for over 20 years. Through this experience, our legal team has had the opportunity to learn from Indigenous peoples about their ways of knowing – ways that are grounded in Indigenous laws expressed in Indigenous stories, songs, art, language, ceremonies, and nature itself.

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 and other issues affecting their territories. RELAW is supportive of and supported by the Indigenous Law Research Unit (ILRU) at the University of Victoria.

Our approach in RELAW is one of collaboration where we work with the Indigenous nations in a partnership that values relationships and reciprocity. Together we research Indigenous laws, summarize and draft legal principles and help communities decide how these principles should be applied on the ground, including through the development of written laws or plans if that is their choice.

West Coast has worked with three different RELAW cohorts beginning in 2016. More than a dozen Indigenous groups, involving more than 50 First Nations, have implemented RELAW projects. Each RELAW project is based upon the Indigenous peoples’ own laws and decision-making processes.

Relaw Learning Partnerships

Through RELAW projects, Indigenous nations have developed contemporary expressions of their laws to address ocean protection, watershed management, fisheries governance, impact assessment and more. By living and enforcing their own laws, Indigenous nations are having transformative impacts on environmental decision-making in their territories.

The RELAW Co-learning Program is also open to individual co-learners from nations that are not currently participating in a RELAW project but wish to deepen their capacity to implement their own people’s vision for Indigenous law revitalization.

To learn more about RELAW, see this short film, “Living Indigenous Laws.”

You can also read these short publications from participating nations telling the story of their RELAW projects:

RELAW recognizes 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.