Professor Eva Ottawa, a member of the Atikamekw Nehirowisiw Nation, has dedicated her research career to the study of legal traditions among the Atikamekw Nehirowisiwok. In this video, Professor Ottawa explains her work on the traditions and customs that form the basis of the atikamekw nehirowisiw legal order. She sets out the main philosophical principles and values governing relationships between people and relationships with the environment among the Atikamekw Nehirowisiwok of Manawan. This research aims to support the codification of concepts drawn from oral traditions within this community.
The Atikamekws Nehirowisiwok are a nomadic people with an oral tradition. There is no term equivalent to “law” in their language. And no institution is in charge of enacting laws. It is the oral traditions that, for generations, have transmitted the values, philosophy and rules governing life in the community.
Nehirowisiwin serves as the foundation of the legal atikamekw nehirowisiw order. It consists of “living law” presenting a vision of the world and a philosophy of existence and relational coexistence unique and distinct from Canadian law.
These rules of life are transmitted thanks to atisokana, a term used to designate tales, legends, experiences, anecdotes. They are also transmitted by kitci atisokana, or creation stories, and by kokotce atisokana, or stories about creatures. Nehirowisiwin also refers to the sacred Law which teaches us how to live, sing and recount history. It is ultimately necessary to carry this philosophy within “oneself” and to express it through all actions and decisions.
The coexistence of Indigenous and Western legal cultures is both a challenge and an asset in the Canadian legal system. In recent years, there has been a movement encouraging the emergence of innovative models of legal pluralism that rely on the coexistence of legal regimes, notably from various First Nations communities. Professor Ottawa’s research contributes to a better understanding of customary practices and norms within First Nations. It is helping to establish innovative models to ensure a better coexistence of Indigenous and Western legal cultures.