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Andrée Boisselle
Osgoode Hall Law School, York University

How do Indigenous legal traditions, which are fundamentally place-based, cope with the massive transformation of the places in question, including the decline and disappearance of species that have been crucial to the traditions’ stories, teachings and norms? What are the resources of Indigenous law not only to oppose the destruction wrought by the weakness of Western environmental legal protections, but to face the damage done and respond in principled ways to catastrophic loss? This paper explores these questions through the lens of Coast Salish law, the tradition of Indigenous societies whose territories surround the Salish Sea in southern British Columbia (Canada). It draws on some of the mythical-historical narratives of the Coast Salish oral tradition as well as on the approach taken by leadership to manage contemporary conflicts to propose an understanding of the very character of Indigenous law. While they are indeed deeply shaped by their specific relationships to and in place, and at once forceful and sophisticated in their opposition to choices that put those relationships in jeopardy, Indigenous legal resources are not enclosed by, or merely equal to those relationships. Inquiring into the character of Indigenous law reveals some of the keys to its resilience.

Andrée Boisselle is Associate Professor at Osgoode Hall Law School, York University (Toronto, Canada). She practiced litigation before pursuing graduate studies in Canadian Aboriginal law and Indigenous law. Her dissertation, titled “Law’s Hidden Canvas: Teasing Out of the Threads of Coast Salish Legal Sensibility”, is the product of a decade of engagement with Stó:lō/Coast Salish communities in southern British-Columbia. The aspiration of her doctoral work is to contribute to problem-solving within Coast Salish legal orders and to a better understanding of their norms and normative processes by the non-Indigenous orders with which they interact. Her work also develops an approach to learning Indigenous law by paying attention not only to the explicit rules, principles and processes that compose the corpus juris of Indigenous legal orders, but more fundamentally, to the implicit norms pervading the modes of reasoning, relating and meaning-making within those orders – their legal sensibility.

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