Oral History on Trial
212 pages, 6 x 9
Release Date:01 Jan 2012
Release Date:08 May 2011
Release Date:01 May 2011

Oral History on Trial

Recognizing Aboriginal Narratives in the Courts

UBC Press

In most English-speaking countries, including Canada, “black letter law” – text-based, firmly entrenched law – is the legal standard upon which judicial decisions are made. Within this tradition, courts are forbidden from considering hearsay – testimony based on what witnesses have heard from others. Such an interdiction presents significant difficulties for Aboriginal plaintiffs who rely on oral rather than written accounts for knowledge transmission.

In this important book, anthropologist Bruce Granville Miller breaks new ground by asking how oral histories might be incorporated into the existing court system. Through compelling analysis of Aboriginal, legal, and anthropological concepts of fact and evidence, Miller traces the long trajectory of oral history from community to court, and offers a sophisticated critique of the Crown’s use of Aboriginal materials in key cases, including the watershed Delgamuukw trial.

A bold intervention in legal and anthropological scholarship, Oral History on Trial presents a powerful argument for a reconsideration of the Crown’s approach to oral history. Students and scholars of Aboriginal affairs, anthropology, oral history, and law, as well as lawyers, judges, policymakers, and Aboriginal peoples will appreciate its careful consideration of an urgent issue facing Indigenous communities worldwide and the courts hearing their cases.


  • 2012, Joint winner - K.D. Srivastava Prize
Oral History on Trial is a long overdue and important book with huge potential to shift the debates concerning the role of Indigenous oral histories and their narrators in the Canadian courts and beyond. Wendy Wickwire, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, Vol. 14 No. 3
Thoroughly documented and clearly written, Oral History on Trial is sure to become a leading work in the field. It discusses the standards considered authoritative when undertaking research about Aboriginal peoples and it scrutinizes the way in which law and the courts deal with Aboriginal oral narratives. Raising and resolving key issues about the admissibility and weight of evidence in courtrooms, it is an invaluable resource for judges, lawyers, and legal scholars, as well as anthropologists, historians, and Indigenous rights researchers. John Borrows, author of Drawing Out Law: A Spirit’s Guide
Bruce Granville Miller is a professor of anthropology at the University of British Columbia.




1 Issues in Law and Social Science

2 The Social Life of Oral Narratives

3 Aboriginal and Other Perspectives

4 Court and Crown

5 The Way Forward? An Anthropological View

6 Conclusions



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