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Aboriginal Law and Indigenous Laws

Pjila'si! Welcome!

Welcome to the Aboriginal & Indigenous Law LibGuide. This guide provides links to books, legislation & informative tools about both Aboriginal and Indigenous Law, as well as related issues regarding Indigenous peoples in Mi'kma'ki and on Turtle Island (North America).

Dalhousie University is located in Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq. We are all Treaty people.

"Aboriginal Law" versus "Indigenous Law"

"Indigenous law exists as a source of law apart from the common and civil legal traditions in Canada. Importantly, Indigenous laws also exist apart from Aboriginal law, though these sources of law are interconnected. Aboriginal law is a body of law, made by the courts and legislatures, that largely deals with the unique constitutional rights of Aboriginal peoples and the relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the Crown. Aboriginal law is largely found in colonial instruments (such as the Royal Proclamation of 1763, the Constitution Acts of 1867 and 1982 and the Indian Act) and court decisions, but also includes sources of Indigenous law.

"Indigenous law consists of legal orders which are rooted in Indigenous societies themselves. It arises from communities and First Nation groups across the country, such as Nuu Chah Nulth, Haida, Coast Salish, Tsimshian, Heiltsuk, and may include relationships to the land, the spirit world, creation stories, customs, processes of deliberation and persuasion, codes of conduct, rules, teachings and axioms for living and governing."

--Estella White (Charleson) - Hee Naih Cha Chist, "Making Space for Indigenous Law" 

Keywords and Subject Headings

Finding Indigenous law resources in the library 

The First Nations, Métis and Inuit have long used their own words to name their people and territories. Contemporary researchers strive to be respectful and use this terminology when referring to Indigenous peoples. However there have been times when authors have referred to Indigenous peoples using words that were inappropriate and/or disrespectful. You may encounter these words when you do assignment research.

When selecting words to use in a database search, you may need to use both old and new terminology, as well as general and specific words to find relevant material. Here are a few examples:

General terms: Indigenous, Aboriginal, First Nations, Inuit, Métis, Native, Indian, First Peoples

Specific terms: Mi’kmaq, L'nuk, MicMac, Montagnais, Haudenosaunee, Iroquois, Ojibwe, Ojibway, Anishinaabe, Cree, Dene, Athapaska, Haisla, Sto:lo

Database search example:  (Mi’kmaq OR Mi’kmaw OR MicMac) AND treaty

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 -- Nova Scotia
  • 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.

A Note on Terminology: 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.