Interview conducted by Sarah Nixon, McGill Faculty of Law student Iakotennikonhrare iontátia’ts. Kenhtekehró:non tanon kanien’kehá:ka niiakaonhontsò:ten. Iakoniáton. Iontaterihón:nion onkwehónwe’neha tsi McGillhne ionteweienstakwa’kó:wa. Gabrielle Doreen is from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory and she is Kanien’kehá:ka. She is turtle clan and teaches a land-based education course on Indigenous food sovereignty at McGill University. Gabrielle has earned her Masters from …
The revitalization of Indigenous law often occurs simultaneously with the revitalization of Indigenous language because language and law are so closely interrelated. Indigenous peoples are simultaneously strengthening their legal and linguistic resources in many ways. An oral tradition often lies at the heart of these processes. There are more second language speakers of Indigenous languages than ever before. People converse with one another in homes, schools, government offices, and other places to improve their skills. They use language tables, story-telling events, curricular development, second language learning events, and other formal and informal occasions to spread this work. As Indigenous peoples are brought together in these oral forums, relationships and obligations are thickened, which generates and enhances the peoples' customary legal ties.
American tribal common law is a mixture of federal and state common law, intertribal common law, and tribal customary law, usually (and unfortunately) applied in that order. Too many American Indian tribes have set aside their cultures and languages when governing as a consequence of adapting to the American federalist system of governance. Michigan tribal courts are steadily moving toward reversing that hierarchy of law and establishing a body of tribal law, a body of law that is ours, Indonaakonigewininaan.
For Indigenous peoples, as for most peoples, language is more than a mode of expression: it is rich with traditional knowledge; it ties us to the spirit, values and mindsets of previous generations, the concepts behind idioms, and the roots of words’ origins; it is embedded with a peoples’ cosmology and heritage and it is a key factor in the promotion of self-esteem, as it strengthens identity.