Our approaches to research are collaborative, transparent, intellectually rigorous and relationship-centred.
The main approach we use to (re)articulate Indigenous laws was co-developed by Hadley Friedland and Val Napoleon, and builds on the work of John Borrows. This research process generally includes five structured and methodical phases. Each phase incorporates engagement and collaboration with community partners and community voices. These phases are adaptable and flexible depending on the project, the methods we use, and the needs of our community partner.
Generally, these five phases are:
We build our working relationship with a community through conversations and a formal process to build a research partnership agreement. In this stage, we clarify the research needs of the community partners, conduct introductory workshops in community, refine research questions with community partners, and secure ethics approval. We also identify and secure sources of funding and establish who the community liaison and core researchers for the project are.
We conduct preliminary research. We draw on the intellectual resources of Indigenous communities where law is recorded. We work with oral narratives, language, people in communities, transcripts, historical and anthropological resources, maps, and other resources our partners see as important to our research. We analyse these resources of Indigenous law in conversation with community-based researchers or community members. We take our analysis and develop a preliminary outline of legal principles and processes from that legal tradition as well as questions to ask in community.
We facilitate conversations in community about our research on their law. These conversations in large engagement sessions, focus group discussions, and interviews. When we can, we travel to communities to hold these discussions, and sometimes spend time in the community or at cultural gatherings. Now, because of COVID-19, we create discussion spaces through zoom. In these conversations, we ask structured questions about oral narratives, language and other resources of law. We also share our thoughts about the law and ask for guidance. We record and transcribe the conversations. All of these conversations are subject to confidentiality principles as outlined in our research agreement.
We draft a final report for the community, using the knowledge we have learned from talking with the community and our research. We finalize our reports through a formal validation process. In this process, we return to community and speak with every person we have quoted to make sure we have used their words correctly and we can use them in the report. We then incorporate any changes from the validation process into the final report and edit it. We also create any accompanying materials for the report, including glossaries, casebooks, backgrounders, and educational or practice materials.
We present the legal report back to community for implementation. Sometimes we support the implementation through a final workshop or through a new project. Sometimes the community does that work on their own. We see our work as being part of an ongoing relationship, and continue to support the work of revitalizing Indigenous law where it is possible and needed.
A small number of our research projects focus on specific points of Indigenous law or critical Indigenous legal issues. We also provide ongoing support, training, and advice to communities conducting their own Indigenous law research.
We have three goals for our research collaborations. We want to establish meaningful partnerships that can grow beyond the life of a particular project. We want to create and provide accessible resources about Indigenous law to assist communities in responding to today’s complex challenges. We want to take the collaborative research we do to create educational materials to teach about Indigenous law and facilitate more respectful conversations and understanding about Indigenous law in the broader community.
Working with us
To help communities assess their strengths and goals, we have created two short guides that are designed to be used together:
I. Getting Started: Assessing Strengths in Community
Do you have one or more of the following resources in or near your community?
- Are there elders or other people in your community who speak, or are learning to speak, your language or languages?
- Are there elders or other people in your community who know, practice, or are learning about their laws, ceremonies, practices, and protocols?
- Are there elders or other people in your community who have personal or life experiences solving problems, resolving disputes, or managing conflicts?
- Are there elders or other people in your community who spend time on the land, with the water, or in the bush and learn from nature?
- Are there elders or other people in your community who know stories or oral histories about how people or animals solved problems, dealt with harm or danger, resolved disputes, mended relationships, or made peace?
- Are there recorded interviews, transcripts, publications, or other records that contain stories about how people or animals solved problems, dealt with harm or danger, resolved disputes, mended relationships, or made peace?
- Are there language resources (dictionaries, websites, books, videos, language circles) in your community?
- Are there cultural gatherings or other events used for teaching and practice in your community?
II. Starting Points for Indigenous Legal Research
This list is designed for ILRU researchers to use when talking with communities about potential research projects.
What are the community’s research purposes or goals?
What research outcomes does the community hope to achieve?
Does the community have one or more of the following resources?
- Published Materials? (For example, story collections, anthropological and historical publications, language materials)
- Publicly available Materials? (For example, external governance documents, maps, court or legal documents, exhibits, Traditional Land Use studies, Environmental Assessments)
- Non-public/Confidential Materials? (For example, community files, professional reports, interview transcripts, past projects, archival materials, internal governance information)
- Experiential/Non-textual information: Are there places, objects, music, dances, ceremonies, gatherings, practices or images the ILRU research team should see and learn about for this project? What are these locations or items, and who will explain them?
- New Interviews/Focus Groups: Does the community want the ILRU research team to conduct interviews and focus groups with community members? If yes, can the community recommend 10-15 elders or knowledgeable people for us to have conversations with?
Here are the research projects that our ILRU team and community partners are working on right now.
Here are the projects that we have completed over the years in collaboration with many dedicated team members and partners.
- Home in the City (2018-2020)
- Legitimus Legal Pluralism Research Project (2013-2018)
- North Coast Indigenous Land and Resources Research Project (2015-2017)
- Indigenous Laws for Resource Stewardship: A Gathering of Nations (2016)
- Gender Toolkit Project (2015-2016)
- Matrimonial Real Property On-Reserve Dispute Resolution Toolkit (2015)
- Indigenous Law Videos on Demand (2014-2015)
- Accessing Justice and Reconciliation Project (2012-2014)
- See: Final AJR report
- See: Cree Legal Summary
- See: Accessing Justice and Reconciliation Photo Story
- See: Mikomosis and the Wetiko Graphic Novel and Teaching Guide.
- Coast Salish Civil Procedure Report (2013)
“Working with our stories, we see pathways to the wisdom of our older ways. We are strengthening our relationships to land and water and air, in ways that help us to walk gently and take care of each other. In holistic ways, we are building webs of connection.”Julianna Alexander
“Researching our history and discovering different aspects of our laws was a very rewarding experience for me. I am thankful for all the hard work and dedication the ILRU team has shown. They helped me to recognize our traditional laws throughout our oral and written history. It was a real eye opener. I would highly recommend working with ILRU. They are a wonderful group of people.”Aaron McMillan
University of Victoria, Fraser Blg