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Photo Canadian Press: Judith Sayers on Jody Wilson-Raybould: ‘What we have witnessed is a strong Indigenous woman telling her truth, guided by Indigenous laws.’


How Indigenous laws and traditions guided Jody Wilson-Raybould.

Former justice minister and attorney general Puglaas, Jody Wilson-Raybould, closed her comments before the House of Commons justice committee on Wednesday, February 27th, with a powerful statement that reverberated across social media.

“I come from a long line of matriarchs and I am a truth teller in accordance with the laws and traditions of our Big House. This is who I am and this is who I will always be. Gila’kasla.”

Wilson-Raybould is a descendant of the Musgamagw Tsawataineuk and Laich-Kwil-Tach peoples, which are part of the Kwakwaka’wakw, and is a member of the We Wai Kai Nation.

Her matriarchs and knowledge keepers taught her the laws and traditions of the Big House, and she has lived her life in accordance with those laws.

Wilson-Raybould is an Indigenous woman with responsibilities within her nation who follows the laws and protocols of her nation. They have shaped who she is and define her responsibilities and how she makes her decisions.

Like all Indigenous people, she has had to participate in colonial laws and governance of the country around her. As the minister of justice and attorney general, it was even more challenging as she was to follow and uphold the colonial laws that have failed Indigenous peoples.

I have to say that I am not from the Big House and my comments will not be about the laws of the Big House, but on Indigenous law as I know it, live by and uphold.

Indigenous laws differ from Canadian law because they are about how we live our lives. It is about our respect and responsibilities for our Mother Earth, the waters that run through her, for all living things that grow from her, for the winged ones, for the four-legged and the sea creatures. It is about our spirituality and seeking our strength in centuries old practices in power places.

Our laws govern our behaviour by teaching us how to be a good person, to be in good relations with creation and other beings. These laws teach us not only to be a good person with integrity, but also to be a good leader who upholds those laws and protocols like ones that are in our feasts or Big Houses. In the case of Jody Wilson-Raybould, her law for her role was to be a truth teller. In my laws, that is being a good person with integrity.

Colonial law is ultimately predicated on dispossession of our people and force and violence; it regulates people by punishment of law if you break it and is also an instrument of colonization and legitimatization of colonization. Whereas our law teaches us to be good people and serve the people.

When I think of all the laws of Canada, do I find these foundations of Indigenous laws embedded in them? I think not.

As an Indigenous woman leader, you live your laws and protocols every day. It is who you are and you try to navigate the non-Indigenous world by never violating Indigenous laws. It is like living in two worlds.

You may take a stand for who you are and what you believe in, and it may be to your disadvantage, but that is what you have to do.

Judith Sayers (Kekinusuqs)

Contributor, thetyee.ca