Bruce Miller, “An Ethnographic View of Legal Entanglements on the Salish Sea Borderlands”

Working Abstract

Drawing on ethnographic research with Indigenous communities of the Salish Sea, in particular regarding Indigenous concepts of law, interviews with federal and provincial authorities, and participation as an expert in Indigenous litigation, I point to the diverse ways in which contemporary Coast Salish people engage the legal entanglements they face in this borderland. Community leaders and other members invoke historic Coast Salish law in many legal and quasi-legal settings, some of which intrude into overlapping state, U.S. federal, provincial, and Canadian federal, and U.S. tribal jurisdictions, in seeking to project their own forms of law and knowledge. The cases considered include the repatriation of a mask from the Museum of Vancouver, a Tsawwassen man fishing in United States waters, travel by a Sinxit man to burial locations across the international boundary, and a meeting of elders of several U.S. tribes and Canadian bands at a mountain pass directly on the border. In addition, I consider the issuance of a document by a U.S. tribal court to permit travel into Canada, and the activities of a Coast Salish group to protect its waterways through cooperation with a U.S. tribe. The bodies of historic Coast Salish law considered here might be construed as incorporeal property rights, travel, access to resources, and environmental law, including legal obligations to immortal beings and landscapes.

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