The significance of Jody Wilson-Raybould invoking Indigenous ‘Big House’ laws

Rarely are Indigenous laws invoked on Parliament Hill

Jody Wilson-Raybould speaks with the media after appearing infront of the Justice committee in Ottawa, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)

Rarely are Indigenous laws invoked on Parliament Hill, but that’s exactly what happened this week when Jody Wilson-Raybould cited core values shaped by “a long line of matriarchs” in front a House of Commons justice committee.

Observers say it’s resonating deeply in Indigenous communities, with some including legal scholar Christina Gray suggesting Wilson-Raybould’s assertion of First Nation principles as her guidepost is a “pivotal” moment in Indigenous-Canadian relations.

READ MORE: Wilson-Raybould says she got veiled threats on SNC-Lavalin

“All lawyers are talking about this right now and definitely Indigenous people are talking about this from all different walks of life,” says the masters of law candidate at the University of Victoria, a Ts’msyen member of Lax Kw’alaams near Prince Rupert, B.C., who was born and raised in Vancouver.

“There’s not an Indigenous person that’s not thinking about this issue right now.”

Wilson-Raybould’s bombshell testimony Wednesday centred on statements that the prime minister’s office employed “veiled threats” to pressure her to allow SNC-Lavalin to escape prosecution.

For his part, Trudeau said later that day that he completely disagreed with her account and insisted he and his staff “always acted appropriately and professionally.”

Wilson-Raybould, the former attorney general, reminded the committee of her history as a Vancouver prosecutor and her professional training to preserve “our system of order.”

But she also outlined what the rule of law means to her as an Kwakwaka’wakw woman and leader, in which she “was taught to always hold true to your core values, principles and to act with integrity.”

“These are the teachings of my parents, grandparents and my community. I come from a long line of matriarchs and I am a truth teller in accordance with the laws and traditions of our Big House,” said Wilson-Raybould, former British Columbia regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

“This is who I am and who I will always be.”

Chief Robert Joseph, a fellow member of the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation, says Wilson-Raybould’s comments have “ignited” an important discussion that he believes will resonate beyond committee hearings.

“Politicians are probably going to be the last to awaken to this possibility (but) ordinary Canadians have a real willingness to learn about their Indigenous neighbours,” says Joseph, calling that key to the principles of reconciliation.

He acknowledges that few non-Indigenous people likely know about the concept of a Big House, which were literally large structures that in the past sheltered up to four families of a clan.

Today, they are a place for ceremonies, decision-making, discussion of economic development issues and protocols between nations and clans, says Colleen Hemphill, chief negotiator for the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Nations.

Carved totems and crossbeams reflect Indigenous history and ancestral connections to the land.

“Some people, including the band chiefs that I work for call it our Parliament building. It’s very, very important, very sacred, it’s the place where we come from and it shows our connections to our origins,” says Hemphill, in the midst of raising funds to build a Big House in her community north of Port of Hardy, B.C.

But when Wilson-Raybould speaks about the Big House, she does so metaphorically, because it also represents an entire worldview, says Chief Joseph.

“When we talk about the Big House we’re talking about all things Kwakwaka’wakw in an instant,” he says. “All of them have genesis stories and from that genesis story we talk about all of the history … we talk about the laws that evolve from that genesis and we talk about the spirituality that is inherent in all of the genesis.

Chief Joseph also lauded Wilson-Raybould for living up to her Kwak’wala name of Puglaas, which he says literally translates as “someone who is a source of fulfillment.”

Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

What you see …

If you have a recent photo to share email (large of actual) to editor@trailtimes.ca

West Kootenay opinion sought on health care issues

Rural Evidence Review getting strong response to survey call-out

Facts missing on impact of Columbia River Treaty

Letter to the Editor from Dave Thompson of Oasis

Fix the potholes

Letter to the Editor from Bob Johnson of Nelson

Locked up garbage not always an effective solution

Letter to the Editor from Karl Fricke of Fruitvale

Kelowna toddler suffers cracked skull after fall from balcony

Neighbour who found the two-year-old boy said he has a bump the size of a golf ball on his head

RCMP probe if teen was intentionally hit with ski pole by mystery skier on B.C. mountain

The incident happened on March 20 on Grouse Mountain. Police are urging witnesses to come forward

Support growing for orphaned Okanagan child after father dies in highway crash

Family thanks emergency crews for assistance in traumatic incident

Baby boom seniors putting pressure on B.C. long-term care: report

B.C. leads Canada in growth of dementia, dependence on care

Pipeline protester chimes in on Justin Trudeau’s B.C. fundraising speech

The government purchased the Trans Mountain pipeline and expansion project for $4.5 billion

UPDATED: B.C. man says he’ll take People’s Party lawsuit as far as he can

Federal judge shut down Satinder Dhillon’s ‘nonsensical’ motion to bar use of PPC name in byelection

Canada stripping citizenship from Chinese man over alleged marriage fraud

The move comes amid severely strained relations between Ottawa and Beijing

Nevada court orders former Vancouver man to pay back $21.7M to investors

The commission says Michael Lathigee committed fraud over a decade ago

Most Read