No-one, No Law
Where there are no residents, no people living on a territory, there is little need or purpose for law. What is now Canada, and even North and South America, was once a completely, lawless unoccupied land mass.
But being the first to arrive, especially when that occupation predates the arrival of European explorers, unquestionably in Canada and in other modern democracies, gives those first occupants an entitlement to a distinct body of law. The name of that distinct body of law changes from time to time. It was once known as Indian law and in fact there were law-books with that exact title, Indian law. Later, the first occupants of Canada became known as the native people, aboriginals or, more recently, first nations (see Duhaime's Aboriginal Law Dictionary for law terms particular to "first nations").
The reference to "first" nations is intentional. It draws attention to the rightful claim that the distinct clans or groups of people already living in North and South America at the time that European explorers arrived, met even the modern criteria of the term nation as it is recognized in international law.
These first residents of what is now Canada arrived over the Bering Straight. That waterway between present-day Russia and Alaska, was frozen over at the time. When the last Ice Age ended, this ice bridge receded and than completely and permenantly disappeared. Hunter nomads from Eurasia were stuck, forced to stay. They gradually made their way over the entire continent, these first residents known to anthropologists as Paleo-Indians.
"The Paleo-Indian period spans from approximately 15,000 B.C. to the end of the Pleistocene Ice Age about 7,000 B.C. The period marks the first colonization of the New World by Homo sapiens. It is generally agreed that these early people came to the Americas from Asia, either by way of a landbridge that formed across the Bering Strait or possibly by use of simple water-craft which they could paddle from island to island. We are certain that these early inhabitants migrated to the New World because even after a century of intensive research, no discovery has ever been made of earlier human ancestors. Scientists believe that the Paleo-Indians may have followed herds of large animals such as mastodons, mammoths, camels and bison as they crossed the Bering landbridge from Siberia to Alaska. The landbridge was made possible by the formation of huge glaciers and ice sheets which caused water levels to drop more than 150 feet. As water levels fell the Aleutian Islands, which spread across the Bering Strait, would have been joined together, linking Asia to America. "
Vikings arrived from Europe in 1000 BC and set up temporary settlements in Labrador, settlements which did not last. By this time, there were about 300,000 resident "Indians" elsewhere on the continent.
By 8,000 BC, most parts of Southern Canada was occupied by what we have accidentally called: "Indians." They were called Indians because the first explorers were unawares of the north and south American continents and making landfall, assumed that they had arrived at India and so-called the residents "Indians". The name stuck even after the error was discovered.
The Iroquois, now known as the Iroquois nation, was one of many groupings of natives on both the North America and the South America continent. The tendency, as was the case circa 1000 BC in Europe, was to live in communities or clans. With the Iroquois, though, law flowed down from a female "matriarch" who dispensed law and ruled over the clan households except for matters of war, peace and trade which were decided by the men.
These first residents or First Nations of Canada, although at the time completely unknown to the more advanced European societies, were nonetheless experiencing the benefits of inter-nation trade, as well as the devastation of war. In about 1100 A.D., several of the distinct clans of aboriginal people on the territory now known as Canada and the United States of America, negotiated a treaty which has been come known as the Great Law of Peace. In that treaty, the first residents of Canada created one of the first "continuously existing representative parliaments on earth."2
Although later completely overwhelmed not only by the weapons but by the common law and the civil law of European explorers, the vestiges of law of the first residents of Canada constitute an auspicious beginning and a unique feature of a successful modern democracy.
- NOTE 1: Belize Institute of Archaeology, Paleo-Indian Period, 15000 – 7000 B.C. [available on the Internet on April 18, 2014 at http://www.nichbelize.org/ia-archaeology/paleo-indian-period.html].
- NOTE 2: Mann, Charles, 1491 - New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus (New York: Random House, 2006).