Transformation Beyond the Settler Legal Paradigm: Grounding Ecologically-focused Legal Theories in Relational Accountability to Address Settler Colonialism and Support Indigenous Sovereignty

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In this thesis, I explore what is required to address settler colonialism and support Indigenous sovereignty in the environmental law context, and assess the extent to which ecologically-focused legal theories or ELTs align with what is required. I conclude that a rebalancing of power and authority is required towards nation-to-nation, legally pluralistic spaces that centre Indigenous sovereignty and the revitalization of Indigenous legal paradigms. In these spaces, settler-Indigenous legal paradigms co-exist as equals in mutually respectful and reciprocal relationships. To create such spaces requires several inter-related efforts on behalf of settlers, including: i) efforts to dismantle settler colonialism in settler legal paradigms and support the revitalization of Indigenous legal paradigms, ii) restitution and reparations for past and ongoing harms, and iii) efforts to engage and interact with Indigenous peoples and their legal paradigms in a manner that reflects the legally pluralistic vision set out herein. I conclude that ELTs mostly advocate for transformation within the settler legal paradigm, failing to challenge the state’s source of law-generating authority over Indigenous peoples and their lands. They also generally fail to centre and support Indigenous sovereignty and the revitalization of Indigenous legal paradigms. There is also virtually no mention of the need for restitution or reparations, or consideration of the need for relationship building and dialogue with Indigenous peoples and their legal paradigms. As a result, ELTs mostly maintain the settler colonial status quo. Nonetheless, there are some leading examples that demonstrate the possibility of ELTs being developed in a decolonized and pluralistic manner that addresses settler colonialism and supports the revitalization of Indigenous legal paradigms. These examples also demonstrate efforts towards creating respectful and reciprocal relationships and dialogue where settler and Indigenous scholars and their legal paradigms co-exist as equals. Moving forward, ELTs should be grounded in problematizing and challenging settler colonialism and supporting Indigenous sovereignty and legal revitalization. Settler ELT scholars should also engage in concerted efforts to build relationships of mutual respect and reciprocity with Indigenous colleagues, where their needs are centred. Such relationship building can enable meaningful cross-legal dialogue and the co-creation of collaborative, decolonized and pluralistic spaces.
Indigenous, Decolonization, Reconciliation, Environmental Law, Ecological legal theories
Gorrie, M. C. H. (2022). Transformation beyond the settler legal paradigm: grounding ecologically-focused legal theories in relational accountability to address settler colonialism and support Indigenous sovereignty (Master's thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from