Ayook : Gitksan legal order, law, and legal theory.




Napoleon, Valerie Ruth

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Conflict is an integral and necessary aspect of human societies. The challenge is not to prevent conflict or even to resolve it, but rather, to effectively manage it so that it does not paralyse people. Historically, Gitksan society managed conflict through their legal traditions and governance practices, and I argue that it is the undermining of this conflict management system that has generated the pervasive conflicts among the Gitksan people today. While it is not possible to attribute the current internal conflict experienced by the Gitksan to the major legal action of Delgamuukw (inclusive of the several decades of preparation, levels of litigation and court decisions, and political aftermath), it was, and arguably still is, a very powerful force and influence in the lives of the Gitksan people. The extensive present-day internal conflicts in Gitksan communities must be reflexively appreciated within the complex of power relationships between the Gitksan people and Canada, and between Gitksan law and Canadian law. In Canada and beyond, Delgamuukw and the Gitksan were (and still are) part of a much larger continuum of political, social, and economic change as well as local economic shifts involving natural resources. The Gitksan people’s legal traditions enabled them to effectively manage themselves in a complex, decentralized, non-state society. Gitksan oral histories and other records such as the songs, crests, kinship roles, and traditions contain implicit and explicit law both as content and in their architecture as cognitive units that enable the sorting of information and dynamic intellectual processes of legal reasoning by analogy and metaphor. Gitksan legal traditions include intentional and deliberative collective processes to change law over time, transform implicit law into explicit law, and create legal precedent and a formal memory archive. These legal traditions are integral to the Gitksan people’s ongoing political perseverance and are the basis for the enduring connections to their territories. Moreover, the legal traditions are part of the dynamic political and social change processes that enable the Gitksan to be Gitksan in the past as well as in the present – complete with all the contested, pragmatic, entangled, contemporary forms of Gitksan politics. A deeper, critical, and more complex appreciation of Gitksan legal traditions is necessary if they are to be practically useful to the Gitksan people in today’s world for application to today’s issues. I have taken the position that Gitksan conflict management processes must be grounded within a substantive and critical articulation of Gitksan laws and legal practices, legal order, and legal theory. I propose a Gitksan legal theory that derives from a substantive treatment of the legal order, laws, and law cases. I draw resources from both western and indigenous legal theorists to explore, describe, and analyse Gitksan legal traditions. My proposed Gitksan legal theory comprises a broad overview, general principles, normative principles, and general working principles. While my work is based on a number of Gitksan law cases, my theoretical approach may be extrapolated to other non-state, decentralized peoples.



law, legal theory, indigenous legal traditions, indigenous law, indigenous legal theory