Aboriginal Oral Histories in the Courtroom

More Than a Matter of Evidence: A Panel Discussion

In 1997, the Supreme Court of Canada’s Delgamuukw decision determined that oral traditions must be placed “on an equal footing with the types of historical evidence that courts are familiar with” in Aboriginal land claims court proceedings. But how has oral history been used in the courts since that potentially ground-breaking ruling? In this panel discussion, experts from anthropology, law, literature, and Indigenous studies explore how oral narratives might be treated in the long process from their transmission by one person to another, their placement in archives, their handling by Crown and tribal/band researchers, their performance in a courtroom, and finally to their evaluation by trial judges as forms of evidence. The panelists consider the role of cultural "insiders" and "outsiders" and how an ethics of collaboration may offer strategies for addressing the problem of translating oral traditions into statements of Aboriginal title in the courtroom. They also invite us to consider how scholarship can transform the process of Aboriginal rights litigation.


Bruce Granville Miller

Bruce Granville Miller
, professor of anthropology at the University of British Columbia, is the author of Oral History on Trial: Recognizing Aboriginal Narratives in the Courts.

Sophie McCall

Sophie McCall,
associate professor of English at Simon Fraser University, is the author of First Person Plural: Aboriginal Story-telling and the Ethics of Collaborative Authorship.

Darlene Johnston

Darlene Johnston, associate professor in the Faculty of Law at UBC, was awarded the designation of Indigenous People’s Counsel from the Indigenous Bar Association of Canada in 2008.


Linc Kesler

Linc Kesler is chair of the First Nations Studies Program at UBC, director of the UBC First Nations House of Learning, and Senior Advisor to the President on Aboriginal Affairs.

This Aboriginal Oral Histories in the Courtroom panel took place on February 8, 2012, at the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia. Below, please find a full video of the panel to watch and share.

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