Oral History, Indigenous Peoples, and the Law

Course Number
LAW 3980
Course Description

“Oral history can present greater opportunities for understanding historical events than the recitation of bare facts. It can reveal the intellectual, social, spiritual and emotional cognition of the event for the group in question.”

John Borrows, Listening for a Change: The Courts and Oral Tradition (Toronto, ON: Osgoode Hall Law Journal 39, 2001)

Oral histories and oral traditions are serving increasingly vital roles in the Canadian legal and political systems. Oral history is being used in the courts, comprehensive and specific land claims processes, treaty interpretation, land use and occupancy studies, and as an educational tool. The individual, family, and community histories in the oral tradition help to bring complicated issues to life. They also support archival and archaeological evidence, particularly for issues where there is little documentary record.

In this course students will explore the roots of this dynamic, yet ancient, phenomenon. Guest Lecturers will explain the concepts and practices of oral history including biblical oral traditions, African oral traditions, as well as the disparate and unique media and methodologies of remembering the past. Students will consider the public perceptions of oral history, the modes of memory recall, orality relation and transmission. Students will study the effect of trauma, the reliability of eye witness testimony, and the specific physical Indigenous traditions of memory encoding.

Background Reading: Bruce Granville Jones, Oral History on Trial: Recognizing Aboriginal Narratives in the Courts (UBC Press 2012) available through UM Library

Guest Lecturers: Ms. Joan Jack, Professor David Ireland, Professor John Borrows, Dr. Emőke J.E. Szathmáry and Professor Darren Courchene

Oral History Workshop Facilitators:  University of Winnipeg Oral History Centre

Teaching Method

Lectures, skills workshops, and self-learning module.

Course Materials