Beverly Jacobs is a member of the Mohawk Nation, Bear Clan, a lawyer, and a law professor at the University of Windsor.
I watched on Monday evening as one of my Mohawk sisters approached members of the Ontario Provincial Police with love and kindness at the railway tracks on the sacred land at Tyendinaga – on the same day that the police violently enforced colonial law upon Mohawk land protectors standing in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who oppose the Coastal GasLink project crossing through their traditional lands in British Columbia.
I cried. I cried for our ancestors, our Elders, our men, our women and our children who have had to deal with this type of violence since colonization. My body trembled as the historical and current traumas inflicted its pain onto my spirit, once again.
Then I snapped out of it, remembering that I had told myself last time that no one would ever violate me or my people again.
It was at that deep-soul level that I remembered what I have been taught and what I had been raised with: our Indigenous laws. This is what I now teach my law students at the University of Windsor. I teach them about the strength of our Indigenous laws, of Haudenosaunee laws, and especially the Great Law of Peace and the strength of our women and men. I teach them about the tradition of peaceful protectors of land, water and ancestors. In my lifetime, I’ve seen the violent actions of the army and police against land and water protectors in Kanehsatake/Oka, Gustafsen Lake, Burnt Church, Listuguj, Ipperwash, Caledonia/Six Nations, Standing Rock and now the crisis on Wet’suwet’en traditional lands and at Tyendinaga.
The symbolism of Tyendinaga is enough to remind me. It is the place where the journey of the Peacemaker, the spiritual leader sent by the Creator to bring peace amongst five separate nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, began – where peaceful relations began, where the Great Law of Peace began. This happened hundreds of years before colonization and way before colonial laws such as the Indian Act, with its band councils that were forced upon our people – including at gunpoint. We should all be aware of the history of this violent relationship, especially since it isn’t taught in every education system today, and since so much racism and hate is spewed against our people, against me, and against any other strong Indigenous and non-Indigenous people whenever they tell the true history: that Indigenous laws and legal orders existed long before colonization.
We had and continue to have our own legal, social, educational, health and governance systems, which allow every single person to feel safe and secure. The practice of Haudenosaunee laws include our Thanksgiving Address, which established our relationship as human beings with our Mother Earth and all life on her; our ceremonies, where we give thanks to the natural world; our songs and dances that remind us of our relationship with every living thing; our laws, which remind us of our responsibilities to all of creation as human beings. The principles of our laws are based on unconditional love, kindness, compassion, respect, and the power of having a good mind, to name a few. This is how we are to carry on our responsibilities to each other as human beings as well: When we have the strength of peace and unconditional love, we maintain healthy relationships.
Before colonization, we established these peaceful relationships with other Indigenous nations; this was our form of international law. This was the basis of our relationships with European nations that came into our territories, and the basis of treaties made with European nations. This was the basis of Kaswentha, a pre-Confederation peace and friendship treaty that acknowledged the principles of healthy and complementary relationships between two sovereign nations – first with the Dutch, then later with the French, British and Swedish colonies. Our people have never forgotten about Kaswentha.
Colonial and Eurocentric law was used as a tool to try to erase Indigenous people from their lands and territories. Europe’s foundational Doctrine of Discovery for North America required the land to be seen as empty, and therefore, for the Indigenous peoples who lived on the land to be rendered inferior, then invisible. A system of dehumanization and dispossession – one that evolved into the systems of governance, law and enforcement we have today – was a precondition of seeing the land as empty of humanity, and thus open for possession and then exploitation.
This is the “rule of law” that Canada and its provinces rely on, and that has been invoked amid these protests.
I would rather continue to feel loved and safe with my own Indigenous laws, thank you.
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