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

Comox cadet spends summer servicing aircraft

Cadet Warrant Officer Second Class Mitchell Mansfield from Comox, is spending his… Continue reading

New producer at the helm for Comox Nautical Days

Nautical Days has a new producer, but those planning on attending the… Continue reading

Watercolours featured at Comox art gallery exhibit

Mostly Watercolours opens July 16 at Pearl Ellis Gallery

Cumberland memorial ride set for deceased Island mountain biker

A memorial ride is set for Tuesday evening for the mountain biker who died in the trails last week.

Comox Valley Community Foundation thanks retiring board members

At its June board meeting, Comox Valley Community Foundation (CVCF) president Matt… Continue reading

VIDEO: Reports say Lashana Lynch is the new 007

Daniel Craig will reprise his role as Bond one last time

Nine kittens and cats rescued after being locked in bins in northern B.C.: SPCA

SPCA says cats were starving, and matted with feces and urine

High-speed rail link would run from Vancouver to Seattle in under 1 hour: study

Annual ridership is projected to exceed three million

ICBC insurance renewals get more complicated this year

Crash history, driver risk prompt more reporting requirements

U.S. tug firm to be sentenced for 2016 spill in B.C. First Nation’s territory

The Nathan E. Stewart spilled 110,000 litres of diesel and heavy oils in October 2016

B.C. man dies from rabies after contact with Vancouver Island bat

Last known case of human rabies in B.C. was 16 years ago

Asylum figures show overall slower rate of irregular crossings into Canada

Between January and June 2019, a total of 6,707 asylum seekers crossed irregularly into Canada

Wolves not gnawing into Island’s prey population

Forestry practices, not predation, blamed for reduced numbers in prey animals

Youth seen with gun at Nanaimo mall, suspect now in custody

Woodgrove Centre shut down during police incident

Most Read