Colonial Traditions, Co-optations, and Mi'kmaq Legal Consciousness


L. Jane McMillan is Canada Research Chair of Indigenous Peoples and Sustainable Communities and Assistant Professor of Anthropology at St. Francis Xavier University. The author is indebted to Donald Marshall Jr., the staff of the Mi'kmaq Legal Support Network and the Eskasoni Provincial Court, the residents of Eskasoni, and the members of the Mi'kmaq Nation who participated so generously in this research. The Canada Research Chairs Program and Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada financially supported this study. Many thanks to Justice Melvyn Green, the anonymous reviewers, and the Law and Indigeneity Collaborative Research Network of the Law and Society Association for their very insightful comments. Please direct correspondence to L. Jane McMillan at


In 1996 a provincial court was established at Eskasoni Mi'kmaq Community in Nova Scotia, Canada, in response to overwhelming evidence confirming the failures of the Canadian legal system to provide justice for Indigenous peoples, and as a specific recommendation of the Royal Commission on the Donald Marshall, Jr., Prosecution. Marshall, a Mi'kmaq wrongfully convicted of murder, served eleven years of a life sentence before proving his innocence. The importation of provincial legal culture into an Indigenous community creates tensions and contradictions surrounding the legitimacy, authenticity, and efficacy of Indigenous laws. The ontological conflicts that arise from the imposition of a justice system integrally linked with colonization, criminalization, and assimilation cannot be resolved through indigenization of court staff and administrative conveniences. The Mi'kmaq continue to assert their laws and articulate their legal consciousness against the co-optation of dominant system, with mixed results.