Aboriginal oral history evidence and Canadian law

Title: Aboriginal oral history evidence and Canadian law
Source document: The Central European journal of Canadian studies. 2008, vol. 6, iss. [1], pp. 97-104
  • ISSN
    1213-7715 (print)
    2336-4556 (online)
Type: Article
License: Not specified license

Notice: These citations are automatically created and might not follow citation rules properly.

The establishment of distant historical facts and the articulation of aboriginal understandings of such facts are both vital to the legal cases of First Nations that confront the Canadian government with specific land claims as well as rights claims. This has made the appearance of oral history testimony a practical necessity for aboriginal claimants. Not only does oral history contain the aboriginal understanding of the past, it also refers to distant historical events for which little or no documentary evidence exists. Such testimony, however, has brought to the fore deep anxieties on the part of the Canadian judiciary regarding the rules of evidence and the value of oral accounts of history. The Canadian judiciary has made significant efforts to be fair and open towards oral history testimony, taking into consideration the unique difficulties of proving aboriginal rights and title cases, most notably in the 1997 Supreme Court decision, Delgamuukw. However, despite such efforts, the need to stretch oral histories to the limits of their reliability, the prevalence of suspicion and distrust between Native and non-Native parties, and the textual "bias" of the Western styles of doing history have led to the undermining of oral history evidence in court. What emerges from this survey of the history of the legal reception of aboriginal oral history testimony in Canada is a sharper sense of the psychological and cultural damage that can result when folk tradition becomes an instrument of economic, legal and political interests.
Dans les affaires juridiques où la population des Natifs oppose au gouvernement canadien des revendications de territoires spécifiques ainsi que des droits, il est primordial à la fois d'établir certains faits historiquement lointains mais aussi d'énoncer la compréhension que la population indienne a de ces mêmes faits. Par ailleurs, de telles réclamations ont mis les revendicateurs natifs devant la nécessité de formuler un témoignage oral de leur histoire. Non seulement l'histoire orale comprend la version native du passé, mais elle se réfère à des faits historiques lointains pour lesquels peu ou aucune source de documents existe. Un tel témoignage historiographie, cependant, a ranimé de très profondes angoisses de la part du système judiciaire canadien concernant les règles des indices et la validité des sources orales. Le système judiciaire canadien a fait des efforts significatifs pour être juste et ouvert vis-à-vis de l'historiographie orale, en prenant en considération les difficultés spécifiques que les Natifs rencontrent pour apporter des preuves à ces revendications de droits et de titres de propriété, notamment lors de la décision de la Cour Suprême de 1997, Delgamuukw. Pourtant malgré de tels efforts, le devoir d'étendre les récits oraux aux limites de leur fiabilité, la prépondérance de la suspicion et de la méfiance entre les Natifs et les non-Natifs, et le penchant théorique de l'historiographie occidentale a montré le discrédit des preuves orales à la cour. Les conclusions du travail de recherches sur la réception par les tribunaux de l'historiographie des Natifs au Canada est une connaissance plus profonde des dégâts psychologiques et culturels qui peuvent résulter quand les traditions populaires deviennent un instrument au service d'intérêts économiques, juridiques et politiques.
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[2] McLeod, Clay (1992). "The Oral Histories of Canada's Northern People, Anglo Canadian Evidence Law, and Canada's Fiduciary Duty to First Nations: Breaking Down The Barriers of The Past", 30 Alberta Law Review. Pgs. 1276 – 1290.

[3] Mohawk, J. (1997). "How the Conquest of Indigenous Peoples Parallels the Conquest of Nature". Copyright 1999 by the E. F. Schumacher Society and John Mohawk. Online at: http://www.archive.org/details/con-quest_mohawk

[4] Miller, Bruce G. (1992). "Introduction" in BC Studies/Special Issue No. 95, Autumn 1992.

[5] Miller, Bruce G. (1992). "Common Sense and Plain Language" in BC Studies/Special Issue No.95, Autumn 1992. (55-65).

[6] Mills, Antonia (1994). Eagle Down is our Law: Witsuwit'en Law, Feasts, and Land Claims. UBC Press.

[7] Richardson, Boyce (1979). Strangers Devour the Land. Toronto, Macmillan of Canada.

[8] Ridington, Robin (1992). "Fieldwork in Courtroom 53: A Witness to Delgamuukw" in Aboriginal Title in British Columbia: Delgamuukw v. The Queen. Edited by Frank Cassidy. Oolichan Books and The Institute for Research on Public Policy 1992.

[9] Rush, Stuart (2003). Use of oral history evidence in aboriginal rights litigation. The Continuing Legal Education Society of British Columbia, at http://www.cle.bc.ca

[10] Von Gernet, Alexander (1996). Oral Narratives and Aboriginal Pasts. Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. Internet Edition. http://www.ainc-inac.gc.ca/pr/pub/orl/index_e.html