Love, truth, bravery, humility, wisdom, honesty and respect.
They are the seven Indigenous teachings – The Seven Grandmothers – and John Borrows will focus on them in his lecture series on Indigenous law next week at the University of Toronto.
“What I’m trying to do is show how those values are still alive within Anishinaabe communities but also could be legal values that could provide insight if we use them to examine Canadian legal worlds,” says Borrows, the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law and Nexen Chair in Indigenous Leadership – and a U of T alumnus.
Borrows, a law professor at the University of Victoria, will deliver the F.E.L. Priestley Memorial Lectures in the History of Ideas. Over three afternoons next week, Borrows will deliver three lectures on "The Seven Grandmothers: Indigenous law, ethics and Canada's Consititution." These are themes he’s exploring in his forthcoming book, Law's Indigenous Ethics: Revitalizing Canadian Constitutionalism, which will be published by University of Toronto Press.
Borrows' first lecture will look at how Indigenous people partly based their decisions to sign treaties on "love" – and what they were hoping to receive in return. If people live in accordance with values of love and truth when entering agreements, there is a potential for more positive outcomes, explains Borrows. “But then there’s also a critical side of that, too, in that love can be feigned or go astray or not be genuine.”
The second lecture will deal with how Canadian courts have attempted to deal with issues of Aboriginal title and Aboriginal rights.
“There are many things about that jurisprudence that have broken us beyond the status quo and given us new ways of thinking about what justice looks like, and the exercise of bravery and humility,” he says.
“There’s also continued challenges that lie ahead because it may be the case that some of these rights are irreconcilable or on the surface deeply inconsistent, so the work to get to reconciliation is going to be beyond perhaps what the courts can do.”
In the final lecture, Borrows will speak about legal education as a means of dealing with Indigenous issues. He is known for his Anishinaabe law camps – a program where Borrows takes law students to reserves to learn about Anishinaabe laws through land-based learning and stories shared by Indigenous knowledge keepers and Elders.
"Law doesn’t always just come out of books. It comes out of experience and some of that experience is encoded in stories and those stories are often connected to things we see around us outdoors," says Borrows.
He says he wants people to come to next week's lectures with an open mind. “I’m hoping that they’ll see something familiar, but at the same time understand that there’s an invitation to learn from the unfamiliar."
The lectures will be held Monday to Wednesday from 4:30 to 6 p.m. at University College, room 140, and are open to the public. There will be a reception following the first lecture.