“UNSETTLING LANDSCAPES: APPLICATIONS OF ETHNOBOTANICAL RESEARCH IN DEFINING ABORIGINAL RIGHTS AND RE-AFFIRMING INDIGENOUS LAWS IN T’SOU-KE TERRITORY, VANCOUVER ISLAND AND BEYOND.”

Date

2022-10-04

Authors

Spalding, Pamela

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Abstract

In this dissertation, I explore how, in Canada, Indigenous people’s relationships with culturally-significant plant species are an expression of Aboriginal rights, and I ask how these rights can be affirmed and exercised using a form of intersocietal law within and between First Nations and state governments. I examine how my own and others’ ethnobotanical and ethnoecological research can help to decolonize the Crown legal systems that limit Indigenous peoples in regenerating their relationships with native plant species and the ecosystems within which they are situated. In order to explore how Indigenous people’s relationships with native plant species can be expressed in law, my dissertation is grounded in a case study, developed and carried out in collaboration with the T’Sou-ke Nation, members of which have lived on southern Vancouver Island since time immemorial as part of the Straits Salish language group. Using the T’Sou-ke case study as an example, I explain how this evidence of knowledge and use of plants helps to root contemporary First Nations’ rights throughout their territories, which is essential to establishing the basis of land and resource rights that have legal force to be claimed today.I indicate current challenges faced by T’Sou-ke Nation in exercising plant-associated rights throughout their territory and outline how the current legal test for proving Aboriginal rights is problematic. The T’Sou-ke have an abundance of rich evidence of their use of 100 native plant species and of Indigenous laws and governance associated with the same. I contend that the obvious and long-standing Indigenous management of these plant species and various ecosystems on southern Vancouver Island supports a very significant claim of legal rights and I believe that my research is broadly applicable to other First Nations in BC and beyond. The T’Sou-ke Nation, historically and today, are norm creating, generating and interpreting people as reflected in their distinct social organization adapted and adjusted by their members through many changing social and ecological variables over centuries. The re-examination of the values, rules, protocols, customs and practices associated with markers of Indigenous plant use throughout Straits Salish landscapes, specifically with the assistance of Indigenous knowledge holders, as well as ethnohistorical, ethnobotanical, and traditional ecological knowledge, re-frames how evidence of land use and occupancy is presented, and, ultimately, how we might all govern these resources together. For the T’Sou-ke, laws around plants are not limited to certain traditional practices, or to specific sites or places; law also rests in species and in the long-term relationships that people have with culturally important plant species. As such, the normative ordering of T’Sou-ke laws relating to their plant use and management must be judged on T’Sou-ke terms, not by Canadian legal terms. My hope is that this research contributes to the larger discussion of acknowledging Indigenous peoples’ distinct and culturally relative rights and principles with respect to native plants, while strengthening and growing the ties that bind all British Columbians together.

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Keywords

Ethnobotany, Indigenous Law, Aboriginal Rights, Ethnoecology, T'Sou-ke Nation

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