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Indigenous Law / Indigenous Legal Traditions

This guide looks at Indigenous legal traditions created by Indigenous legal orders.

Indigenous Sources of Law

Sources of Indigenous Law: the origins or foundation of Indigenous law

Scholars and individuals examining Indigenous law and legal traditions draw on a variety of resources and methods. Please refer to Friedland & Napoleon's article Gathering the Threads  <https://llj.lakeheadu.ca/article/view/1408/726>

Please refer to  John Borrows'   "Sources and Scope of Indigenous Legal Traditions" chapter two in his work Canada's Indigenous Constitution.  Borrows discusses five sources: sacred, natural, deliberative, positivistic, and customary law. 

Resources of Indigenous Law: the substantive content of the law, which are linked to the sources. 

Darcy Lindberg and Lindsay Borrows' presentation to Legal Process, Fall 2017 outlined these resources:

  • Elders, families, clans, societies
  • Stories, oral  or possibly found in published historical or anthropological works
  • Songs
  • Ceremonies
  • Dreams
  • Dances
  • Art
  • Land / Nature
  • Language
  • Peoples personal memories
  • Witness testimony in court cases

Scholarly  works will cite to these resources, such as those cited by the works listed in the UVic Law Scholarship, Faculty, Graduate Students, ILRU section of this guide. One example is the Publications of the  Jessup North Pacific Expedition 

Selected Library Resources

Finding Indigenous law resources in the library 

To find other sources using the Library catalog requires searching by Library of Congress Subject Heading, using the catalogue subject keyword search.  Use the name of a First Nation, combined with subject keywords such as:

  • folklore
  • history
  • Indian mythology -- British Columbia
  • legends
  • oral tradition
  • mythology
  • philosophy
  • religion
  • social life and customs
  • traditional ecological knowledge
  • treaties
  • legal status laws etc

This approach will require multiple searches, as subject terminology is not precise or sensitive.  Spellings of First Nations community names and geographic areas can be variant. You may wish to discuss with a knowledgeable person the appropriateness of the sources found by a library catalogue or database search.

Disclaimer: Many of the subject headings use outdated and offensive language such as "Indians", "folklore", etc.  These terms are outdated and do not adequately describe the material.  Our metadata team is working on decolonizing the subject headings to ensure they are using the appropriate language to describe the Indigenous topics and Nations. 

  (keyword search, enter deparment  names as phrases)

Indigenous Studies Portal Research Tool

iPortal is a research portal created by the University of Saskatchewan and includes extensive resources on multiple topic areas.  Due to the diverse sources of Indigenous law, Indigenous law can be found in all of the subject areas and not only the specifically marked area of 'Law'.  

The topics are divided into categories as well as types of resources.  The 'oral history' tab provides transcripts of interviews with community members and Elders, providing information that may not be available elsewhere.

Selected resources on place names

See the "Related Libguides" page for more detailed libguides on Indigenous languages. 

Creative Commons License
This work by The University of Victoria Libraries is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License unless otherwise indicated when material has been used from other sources.