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 opikihawasowin or the modalities of care or circulation of children among the Atikamekw Nehirowisiwok of Manawan.
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. Among the Indigenous peoples of Canada, for example, there are customary practices and norms governing the care of children, on a temporary or permanent basis, by a member of the family or other close relatives. According to some observers, a lack of knowledge of Indigenous adoption practices and customs contributes to the perception that a lack of supervision by the legal framework of the State is contrary to the best interests of the children.
Moreover, in 2012, the Working Group on Customary Adoption in an Indigenous Environment proposed solutions to the Government of Quebec in order to establish a “bridge” between state law and Indigenous custom in order to expressly recognize its effects in the law. In 2017, Quebec amended the Civil Code of Quebec by partially opening the door to the recognition of legal pluralism in matters of “customary adoption”.
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.