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Reclaiming the Language of Law: The Contemporary Articulation and Application of Cree Legal Principles in Canada Open Access


Other title
Indigenous law
Aboriginal law
Indigenous law research methods
Aboriginal justice
truth and reconciliation
Indigenous legal theory
Violence and vulnerability
Cree law
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Friedland, Hadley Louise
Supervisor and department
Lewans, Mathew (Law)
Napoleon, Val (Law)
Examining committee member and department
Pavlich, George (Law & Sociology)
Brodie, Janine (Political Science)
Reif, Linda (Law)
Nedelsky, Jennifer (Law, Political Science & Women's Studies)
Borrows, John (Law)
Faculty of Law

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada states the revitalization and application of Indigenous laws is vital for re-establishing respectful relations in Canada. It is also vital for restoring and maintaining safety, peace and order in Indigenous communities. This thesis explores how to accomplish this objective. It examines current challenges, resources and opportunities for recovering, learning and practicing Indigenous laws. It develops a highly structured methodology for serious and sustained engagement with Indigenous legal traditions, based on reviewing existing methods, then combining the methods of two leading Indigenous legal scholars, John Borrows and Val Napoleon. This method approaches Indigenous stories as jurisprudence. It uses adapted legal analysis and synthesis to identify Indigenous legal principles from stories and oral histories and organize these principles into a rigorous and transparent analytical framework. These legal principles can then be readily accessed, understood and applied. This thesis demonstrates this adapted legal analysis method is teachable, transferable and replicable, using research outcomes of Cree legal principles responding to violence, harms and conflicts. Through the example of a foundational Cree legal principle, “wah-ko-to-win” (our inter-relatedness), it demonstrates how this method can also deepen our understanding of background or ‘meta-principles’ within Indigenous legal traditions, which can help us interpret, apply and change laws in legitimate ways. It then demonstrates how the research outcomes from this method may be understood and applied by Indigenous communities, through a case study exploring the development of a contemporary Cree criminal justice process based on Cree legal principles, by and with the Aseniwuche Winewak. Finally, it examines the current narratives about the appalling rates of violence against and over-incarceration of Indigenous people in Canada and the existing gap between legitimacy and enforcement. It proposes Indigenous legal reasoning as a bridge, and develops the conceit of the “reasonable Cree person” to examine whether principled Cree legal reasoning can be explicitly recognized and implemented within Canada’s current political and legal systems. It concludes that, while there are many potential spaces for doing so, more intellectual work is necessary first, in which both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people engage with Indigenous laws as laws. It is this kind of deep engagement that is necessary to effectively and respectfully operationalize the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s compelling calls for greater recognition of Indigenous laws in Canada.
This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for the purpose of private, scholarly or scientific research. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
Citation for previous publication
Hadley Friedland, “Reflective Frameworks: Methods for Accessing, Understanding and Applying Indigenous Laws” (2013) 11 (2) Indigenous Law Journal 1Hadley Friedland, The AJR Project Cree Legal Traditions Report (May 2014), prepared for the Accessing Justice and Reconciliation Project, on file with the University of Victoria Indigenous Law Research Unit, the Indigenous Bar Association, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, the Ontario Law Foundation, and the Aseniwuche Winewak, online:
Friedland, Aseniwuche Winewak Justice Project Report: Creating a Cree Legal Process Using Cree Legal Principles (October, 2015), prepared for the Aseniwuche Winewak Nation, on file with the University of Victoria Indigenous Law Research Unit and the Aseniwuche Winewak.

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