Focusing on Delgamuukw v. British Columbia, this paper argues that it is not difficult, if one takes a fair look at Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en governance, to see legal ways of knowing drawn from specific materials. The materials are different from the ones western law draws on, but that does not render them less legitimately legal. To get beyond prejudices about what counts as law, settler courts may have to begin by admitting that indigenous oral narratives, songs, totem poles and other aspects of material culture are legal materials. Then those who work in those courts would have to interrogate that new knowledge, and perhaps learn that in getting there by that method they ended up bringing colonialism with them. Instead, perhaps we can ask how someone trained as a lawyer in a textual tradition might learn to see that a song, a story, a ceremonial robe, or a totem pole, could be law or legal title rather than evidence of those things. After all, Canadian jurisdiction is as much a story as anything brought forward by the elders who testified in this case. A materialist approach cannot guarantee a better parsing of the problems of communication here, but it may shine a brighter light on what counts as jurisdiction and thus make it more difficult to accept without question that Canada’s courts have the right to decide a case like this.
Recommended CitationStauffer, Jill, ‘You people talk from paper’: Indigenous law, western legalism, and the cultural variability of law’s materials, Law Text Culture, 23, 2019, 40-57.