The federal government is giving a First Nations community $500,000 to implement unwritten, traditional laws on its territory.

Justice Minister David Lametti gave the Shuswap nation near Kamloops on Aug. 3, to “celebrate (the) efforts and revitalize (the) legal traditions of the Indigenous community.”

The grant will “implement Secwepemc laws in the Shuswap Nation” and promote “the practical application of Secwepemc legal traditions pertaining to lands, natural resources and citizenship,” said a Department of Justice statement.

It seems unclear how these laws will be enforced since Tribal Chief Wayne Christian told reporters that the laws were not written down. Christian claims the laws are “embedded” in Indigenous “oral history” and “written in the land.”

“Governance of the territory was done not in a hierarchical sort of top-down approach,” Christian said. “It was done based on our family groupings, and our families rule the land and govern the territory and manage the territory, the animals, the fish, everything, through that process. So, when we talk of governance, what we’re really talking about is our families.”

Support for this project goes together with the Government of Canada’s response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Call to Action 50. In Budget 2019, the government first announced $10 million to promote Indigenous law initiatives across Canada over five years.

In Budget 2021, the government again pledged further support, spending $18 million over five years to Indigenous law initiatives and $4 million to revive the Law Commission of Canada, an independent body that gives law reform guidance to the government.

“We need to reconstruct who we are as a people and how we can embed our legal traditions as part of the process,” Christian said.

The 2007 implementation of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People has begun to “open up that door to really identify that Canada is a tri-judicial country,” according to Christian.

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