Positivist and pluralist trends in Canadian Aboriginal Law: the judicial imagination and performance of sovereignty in Indigenous-state relations




Beaton, Ryan

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This dissertation identifies institutional positivism and historically grounded pluralism as interpretive trends in the Canadian case law on Indigenous-state relations, and explores tensions between these trends. These are tensions between practices of judicial interpretation, not between theories of interpretation or legal concepts. They are practices developed case- by-case, with interpretive trends emerging over time through series of cases addressing similar issues in related contexts. Institutional positivist approaches insist that judicial recognition of Indigenous legal orders and accommodation of Indigenous interests must take place within established constitutional forms founded on state sovereignty. Historically grounded pluralist approaches show greater willingness to balance principles of state sovereignty against principles of popular sovereignty and of Indigenous priority in Canadian territory. While the two approaches overlap significantly, their differences sometimes lead to contrasting legal conclusions on key issues of, e.g., treaty interpretation, the relationship between Indigenous legal orders and the state legal system, and the jurisdictional dimension of Aboriginal title. This dissertation examines these positivist-pluralist tensions in the context of the current period of ideological transition and rapidly evolving imaginaries of Indigenous-state relations. Chapters 1 and 2 explore the case law to highlight concrete ways in which this ideological transition finds doctrinal expression in both positivist and pluralist modes. Chapters 3 and 4 offer broader reflections on philosophical debates relating to legal positivism and the role of popular sovereignty in constitutional interpretation by Canadian courts. The final chapter then considers the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in Canadian law, with a focus on implementing legislation recently adopted by British Columbia and on two recent judgments that split the Supreme Court of Canada on the proper role of the Canadian judiciary in coordinating Canadian state law with non-state legal orders (Indigenous in one case and international in the other). This concluding chapter explains how the ongoing interplay of positivist and pluralist concerns will inevitably shape the reception of UNDRIP in Canadian law and the ongoing elaboration of Canadian Aboriginal law more generally.



Aboriginal Law, Constitutional Law, Legal Philosophy, Pluralism, Legal Positivism, Canadian Legal History, Aboriginal Title, Indigenous-State Relations, Indigenous Rights, Sovereignty, Popular Sovereignty, Crown Sovereignty, Colonialism, British Colonial Law