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

VIDEO: Salmon begin spawning in Hope’s Thacker Park

Countless chum salmon making way upstream for annual event

Food drive this Saturday for local food bank

Volunteers gathering bags of donations Saturday morning

Name Manning’s new quad chair, win a season’s pass

Lift replacement among long list of upgrades at popular ski resort

Chilliwack-Hope incumbent Conservative sums up Andrew Scheer’s election promises so far

Strahl says his party’s tax credit promises designed to put more money in the pockets of Canadians

Rainbow crosswalk plan gets council support in Hope

Council writing letter of support to community group for crosswalk project

VIDEO: Trudeau asks Canada to look to current, not past, actions on race

Liberal leader says he never spoke about the racist photo because he was embarrassed

Horvat paces Canucks to 6-1 pre-season win over Oilers

Vancouver improves to 3-1 in NHL exhibition action

Legislature gifts, clothing, travel need better control, B.C. auditor says

Audit follows suspensions of managers by Speaker Darryl Plecas

‘Really disturbing:’ Trudeau’s racist photos worry B.C. First Nation chief

Wet’suwet’en Chief concerned the photos will sow fear in Indigenous communities

‘Unacceptable’: What politicians have to say about Trudeau in blackface

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi: ‘When I saw that picture last night, certainly it was a sucker-punch’

‘He’s trying to kill me’: Victoria police commandeer boats to reach screaming woman

No charges laid and civilians to be awarded honours after incident on Gorge Waterway

VIDEO: B.C. man accused of assaulting sex worker loses temper in interrogation

Defence lawyer says statements made by accused Curtis Sagmoen should be deemed inadmissible

John Horgan promises action after fatal mid-Island bus crash

Premier cites students, local Indigneous community as reason to repair the road

Police warn of escalating violence, weapons in Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park

Officers issue statement about high crime in the area that includes a homeless camp

Most Read