WSÁNEĆ law and the fuel spill at Goldstream

Date

2014-09-02

Authors

Clifford, Robert Justin

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Abstract

This thesis examines a fuel spill at Goldstream River, on Coast and Straights Salish People’s territory, on southern Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Goldstream is an important salmon spawning and fishing location for the WSÁNEĆ (Saanich) people. In this thesis I step beyond the confines of the common law and its associated narratives and examine the fuel spill through the lens of WSÁNEĆ culture and legal order. In doing so I seek to open nascent possibilities and understandings relating to the fuel spill, its associated harms, and the implications this has for a legal response. My approach is rooted in the field of Indigenous law. In contributing broadly to the revitalization and resurgence of Indigenous law, including its theoretical and methodological aspects, I strengthen my claim that WSÁNEĆ law offers an important legal response to the Goldstream spill. My approach, however, extends beyond the field of Indigenous law. It also draws insights from the fields of postcolonial theory and resurgence theory. Postcolonial theory aids in understanding the processes and power structures that silence and subordinate Indigenous systems of law. The effective revitalization of Indigenous law draws from these understandings. My emphasis, however, does not rest squarely on critique. I argue that colonial power structures are best mitigated and subverted by applying Indigenous narratives, including Indigenous systems of law. I draw on resurgence theory to highlight the empowering effects of strengthening Indigenous narratives and for transforming relationships between Indigenous peoples and the Canadian state. In applying this theoretical framework I argue that WSÁNEĆ law provides an alternative lens through which to address the Goldstream spill. Through attention to WSÁNEĆ stories and the SENĆOŦEN language (the language of the WSÁNEĆ people) I open a narrative of WSÁNEĆ law that provides a distinct normative framework regarding our responsibilities to one another and to the Earth. The benefits of such an approach are far reaching in scope. They reconceptualise foundational assumptions relating to the nature of the harm, as well as the notion jurisdiction. My narrative moves from thinking and acting with authority over the environment, to having mutual responsibilities in relation to ecology. The scope and contributions of Indigenous law should not be overlooked. To do so is to limit the potential for Indigenous/non-Indigenous reconciliation, as well as the healthy functioning of Indigenous legal orders.

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Keywords

Indigenous Law, Indigenous, Native Peoples, Coast Salish, WSANEC, Goldstream River, Saanich, Postcolonial, Resurgence, Indigenous legal traditions, Law

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