Indigenous legal jurisdiction over water? Piikani opposition to the Oldman River Dam

Authors: Michael Fabris*, University of British Columbia
Topics: Indigenous Peoples, Canada, Legal Geography
Keywords: Indigenous law, Indigenous Geographies
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 5:55 PM
Room: Virtual 40
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In this paper, I discuss the Piikani Nation’s opposition to the Oldman River Dam, as this struggle highlights the challenges Indigenous communities can face in attempting to assert our own forms of jurisdiction within the confines of Canadian law. Completed in 1991, the Dam faced multiple forms of opposition by Piikani members, including lawsuits, opposition from the Piikani Band Council, and an attempt by community activists to divert the river around an existing irrigation weir. I am especially interested in how various activists within the community mobilized differing conceptions of law, such Indian Act regulations, Treaty rights, and Piikani/Blackfoot legal traditions. This paper seeks to answer: how are Indigenous forms of jurisdiction enacted within and beyond reserve boundaries? And how do they articulate with Canadian legal systems, such as the reserve and band council systems? To answer these questions, I draw from both critical political economy and Indigenous legal scholarship, as I argue that in struggles against the capitalist reterritorialization of Indigenous places, it is through the assertions of competing legal jurisdictions that these struggles tend to find their most profound expression. Here, I use the concept of articulation from critical political economy, suggesting this concept might be a useful alternative to the framework of ‘legal pluralism’ that is often used by scholars to examine how Indigenous legal orders interact with Canadian law.

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