THE ADVOCATE 369
VOL. 77 PART 3 MAY 2019
But you might ask, “How does an oral history become law?” An oral history
becomes law by defining the optimal standard of social conduct.
Musqueam Traditional Law
All people have in common shared experiences from our distant past.
These are far more important than our differences. Yet we respect those differences
Musqueam traditional law is constituted from various streams of hereditary
law known as snew’i’ulth. The Musqueam kinship system is based on
equal inheritance from both male and female family members. Therefore
you inherit the snew’i’ulth of both parents. When a new family is created, a
new version of hereditary law specific to the children of that union is created.
Differentiation in snew’i’ulth occur when a family line carries spiritual
or ancestral obligations specific to their lineage. It is these obligations
which create behavioural codes specific to a given family. These family-
specific codes of behaviour do not alter Musqueam laws of general application
as they apply to a territorial acknowledgement or Musqueam welcome.
The aggregate of these various streams of Musqueam law represents the
totality of Musqueam traditional law. There are common principles that are
contained in the various streams of snew’i’ulth. The most common of these
principles are evident during transitional ceremonies such as welcomes,
funerals, memorials, cleansings, etc.
At these ceremonies these laws are repeated in a public forum in front of
hundreds of witnesses. In this way these traditional Musqueam laws have
been maintained without interruption, despite the 66-year prohibition
under the potlatch ban. As these laws are cited at transitional ceremonies
in front of hundreds of witnesses, we may regard them as current
Examples of these Musqueam laws of general application include the following:
all people are related, we have an obligation to protect the wellbeing
of others and we must respect the property of other people. Common
principles of our law are to welcome those who come in peace, to forgive
those who wrong us through ignorance and to help those in need. These
laws and legal principles of Musqueam Culture are still a part of Musqueam
When we interact with Canada, we do not abandon our law for Canadian
law; we do so by following our law, and where our law permits, we follow
Canadian law. It is our sincere hope that we can share our law with Canada
and Canadians. The territorial acknowledgement is an aspect of traditional