The goal of my research is to foster understanding of social practice at the intersections of: 1) the systems of laws and responsibilities of Indigenous societies; 2) the system of property law that flows from the British Crown and Common Law to Aotearoa New Zealand and Canada.
My research interests have emerged from a longstanding involvement with Indigenous communities in Washington State and British Columbia, and through bearing witness to their experiences and their testimony in courtrooms. I aim to contribute to the development of an emergent and responsive judicial system, and to the respectful interpretation of nation-to-nation relationships in the courts, as established and maintained through treaty, or through other relational means.
My programme of research in Aotearoa New Zealand, with respect to the Te Paparahi O Te Raki (Wai 1040) claim currently before the Waitangi Tribunal extends this work to the observation of claims in a court-like setting. The dignity and purpose of Māori claimants have been upheld by the Waitangi Tribunal’s finding in the Stage One Wai 1040 Report, that Ngāpuhi claimants did not cede sovereignty to the Crown. Research on freshwater claims has also been supported through my membership in the Transdisciplinary Research Network: Water, Climate Change, Futures (M. Stewart-Harawira, PI) through a grant from Kule Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Alberta. My past work on cross-cultural (mis)communication in courtrooms has been supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), and the (former) Law Commission of Canada.
I am a member of the SSHRC/American Philosophical Society–supported Franz Boas Papers Project (Regna Darnell, PI), on James Teit’s papers, his work on land rights as the Secretary for the Allied Tribes of British Columbia at the turn of the last century, and the subsequent provision in the Indian Act, Sec. 141, in force until 1951, prohibiting members of First Nations from hiring lawyers or legal counsel.
I have been fortunate to collaborate with members of Esketemc First Nation at Esk’et, also known as Alkali Lake, since beginning my doctoral fieldwork with the late Angela George and her family, and most recently in support of Esketemc’s successful opposition to a proposed gold mine, which had sited power transmission corridors and roadworks within their hunting, fishing and gathering territory. The supporting research, presented to two national Environmental Review Boards, was also the basis for Maps of Experience: The Anchoring of Land to Story in Secwepemc Discourse (University of Toronto Press). This book documents traditional practices on the land, including the narratives of hunters and gatherers as pooled through discursive exchange, which can be considered together as ‘maps of experience,’ providing the basis of shared understanding and social relationship to territory.