Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Source Publication

The Honourable Justice Patrick Smith, ed, Reconciliation in Canadian Courts: A Guide for Judges to Aboriginal and Indigenous Law, Context and Practice (Ottawa: National Judicial Institute, 2017) pp. 260


This chapter provides a brief introduction to the constitutional order that underlies Anishinaabe law. The focus is not on Anishinaabe law itself; an undistorted understanding of Anishinaabe law is impossible without first understanding the underlying constitutional order that gives rise to Anishinaabe law. By “constitutional order”, we do not mean a combination of founding documents and conventions; those refer to only one particular type of constitutional order. Instead, we mean a framework for how a people constitutes itself as a political community. All legal systems, including Canadian law, are grounded in a particular constitutional order. Constitutional orders, in turn, are grounded in a people’s fundamental beliefs about the nature of reality, including their ontology, cosmology, and epistemology. An attempt to engage with a foreign legal system—including an Indigenous legal system such as Anishinaabe law—without first comprehending that law’s underlying constitutional order will result in misunderstandings and a distorted conception of the law. For those of us enculturated within a western liberal democratic worldview, to avoid inadvertently imposing our own particular ontological, cosmological, and epistemological—and eventually constitutional—assumptions onto Anishinaabe law, we must first learn to step outside of our own constitutional order and begin to operate from within an Anishinaabe constitutional order.

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