For thousands of years, Indigenous peoples have governed their territories according to their own laws – safeguarding land, air, water and communities to sustain their cultures and economies. Drawing on the lessons learned over two decades of work with Indigenous peoples on Indigenous law-based approaches to land use planning, impact assessment and other aspects of environmental governance, in 2016 West Coast launched the RELAW program (Revitalizing Indigenous Law for Land, Air and Water).
RELAW is a program of West Coast Environmental Law, supportive of and supported by the Indigenous Law Research Unit at the University of Victoria, Faculty of Law (ILRU). West Coast and the ILRU share the fundamental belief that Indigenous law is law, that Indigenous laws are part of living Indigenous legal orders, and that Indigenous law can and should be used on the ground today.
Indigenous nations participating in RELAW projects have access to free legal services and co-learning opportunities for community members, focused on approaches to researching, applying and enforcing Indigenous law.
Through RELAW projects, legally trained staff from West Coast work collaboratively with Indigenous nations to:
- Draw on stories and the wisdom of elders to develop a summary of legal principles related to land and resources/environmental governance in their legal tradition;
- Develop a written law, policy, agreement or plan grounded in their own laws and community dialogue; and/or
- Develop and put into action a plan for implementing and enforcing their own laws on a particular environment or resource development issue.
The RELAW Co-learning Program is also open to individuals nominated by Indigenous nations who are not currently participating in a RELAW project.
Learn more about the RELAW project in this short film: