Illegal: Let Us Live

Artist Statement from Illegal: Let Us Live

A performance for the Testify Collective

by Mariel Belanger MFA and Gregory Younging PhD

The Illegal: Let Us Live multi-media performance features a projected film and audio featuring the two artists as they read a piece of prose written by Younging comprised of quotations. It is also features one of the artists, Belanger, doing a live performance to accompany the film and audio. Illegal: Let us Live is an historical embodiment challenging the colonial imposition, forced displacement, diaspora and the importance of telling our intergenerational truths and speaking out against genocidal practices and laws. 

In this performance the artist, Belanger, is the embodiment of Mother Earth, transitioning through the story, as she portrays the thematic tension within ‘belonging’ in contemporary Indigenous relationships to colonial patriarchy. This piece speaks to the colonial strategy of denial as it addresses its continuing divide and rule pathologies.

Illegal: Let Us Live is based around a prose written in three parts, containing quotations on Indigenous law and from throughout Canadian history by Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples: Part 1: These Are Our Laws; Let Us Live/ Part 2: Illegal: Let Us Cry; and, Part 3: New Laws, Revelations: Will We Live Again?

The Illegal: Let Us Live performance is 30 minutes long and is currently touring across Canada with other collaborative artworks from the Testify Collective. It was performed in Vancouver in October 2016 and Nanaimo in November 2016, and will be performed in Victoria March 3-5 2017. 

This 7 minute looped excerpt was complied for the RE:Claiming the Taken exhibit. It features Part 3 and does not include the artist’s on stage performance. Part 3 is comprised of quotations from the recent era of reconciliation and the multitude of diverse voices that continue to emerge. This section serves to highlight the possibility of decolonization and the re-emergence of Indigenous laws.

Mariel Belanger MFA and Gregory Younging PhD

These Are Our Laws: Let Us Live/Illegal: Let Us Cry/New Laws, Revelations: Will We Live Again?

Script for Illegal: Let Us Live performance by Mariel Belanger

Written by Gregory Younging PhD for the Testify Collective 2016


These Are Our Laws: Let Us Live

Ka-mayahkamikahk is what the Creator has given us (as Cree People, i.e., land, resources, spirituality/ceremonies,…); and, therefore,  we are responsible for taking care of and protecting all of it.” 

“Medicine people who have specialized spiritual and medicine knowledge are relied upon and sought out to use their power to address harms and protect the community.”(Cree Legal Summary, Indigenous Bar Association)

Jeannette said:

“In the Nsyilxcen Language Tmx’ulax  (Land) is an amalgam of time and living beings.  It also contains an implication of  ‘This Exact Place’ with a concept of it being braided. So Tmx’ulax  (Land) means something like ‘This Exact Place in its braided spiral of time and living beings’ ” (Jeannette Armstrong)

 “When we take care of the land and water, the land and water take care of us. This is our law.”  (Okanagan Nation Alliance)

These Are Our Laws: Let Us Live

“When there is a risk of danger, or harm, if Elders have greater knowledge, they may collectively act or one Elder may do a direct action to prevent harm and protect people… Where there is an interpersonal conflict, but no immediate danger or risk of harm to people, Elders take on a more persuasive role.” (Interview of Marie McDonald by Kris Statnyk and Aaron Mills, June  25, 2012)  

Marie said:

 “When individuals observe or receive a warning of harm, they are responsible for warning the larger community… if a person is warned that someone will be harmed, they will tell other people. The community will then talk about it and pray for them even if they do not know exactly who the victim will be.” (Cree Elder Marie MacDonald)

Joe said:

“…when people recognize warning signs that a wetiko (bad spirit) might be present, everyone openly discusses present observations and future threats, because the wetiko will hear the discussion and be more cautious because of it.” (Cree Edler Joe Karakuntie)

And Joe said:

 “… when there are warning signs of harmful behaviour, suspicions of actual harmful behaviour must be confirmed through observation before further action is taken against the harmful person…When a person is suspected of causing grave harm, others observe him or her to confirm suspicions before taking further steps. (Cree Edler Joe Karakuntie)

And Joe said:

“When someone is becoming or has become harmful or dangerous to others, the predominant and preferred response is the healing of that person… When healing is not possible, a group may respond to a harmful actor by moving away from or actively avoiding him or her in order to maintain group safety… people would also gather together in larger groups for safety. (Cree Edler Joe Karakuntie)

These Are Our Laws: Let Us Live

“We will dance when our laws command us to dance, we will feast when our hearts command us to feast… It is a strict law that bids us dance. It is a strict law that bids us distribute our property among our friends and neighbors. It is a good law. Let the white man observe his law, we shall observe ours.” (Kwawaka’wakw Chief O’wax̱a̱laga̱lis)

 “We made a sacred covenant to follow the Creator’s life plan at all times, which includes the responsibility of taking care of this land and life for His divine purpose. We have never made treaties with any foreign nation, including the United States, but for many centuries we have honored this Sacred Agreement.” (Hopi Elder Thomas Bayanca)

The Assembly of First Nations Elders Council said:

“We the Original Peoples of this land know the Creator put us here.

The Creator gave us laws that govern all our relationships to live in harmony with nature and mankind.

The Laws of the Creator defined our rights and responsibilities.

The Creator gave us our spiritual beliefs, our languages, our culture, and a place on Mother Earth which provided us with all our needs.

We have maintained our Freedom, our Languages, and our Traditions from time immemorial.

We continue to exercise the rights and fulfill the responsibilities and obligations given to us by the Creator for the land upon which we were placed.

The Creator has given us the right to govern ourselves and the right to self-determination.”  (Declaration of the First Nations 1982)

The Peacemaker said: 

“… in the middle of the circle where the Chiefs are holding hands, I will plant the Great Tree of Peace. And it will be so tall it will pierce the sky. And it will be the symbol of sharing, the symbol of brotherhood and the symbol of peace in the world. And the roots will be so big and they will be white, one to the north, the east, the south, and the west. And they will carry peace to the world.” (Tom Porter (Sakokwenionkwas), And Grama Said… Iroquois Teachings as passed down through the oral tradition, Xlibris Corporation, 2008, p. 307)

These Are Our Laws: Let Us Live

And the Peacemaker said:

“People of all nations must now come together as one. Beneath this tree we shall bury our weapons of war… As Five Nations, we will bring forth peace, power and righteousness. The women of our tribes shall appoint the Chiefs, and as one people we shall live under the protection of the Great Law.” (Robbie Robertson, Hawatha and the Peacemaker, Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2015) 

Charles Royal said:

“The natural world is not so much the repository of wisdom but rather is wisdom itself, flowing with purpose anddesign. We can say that the natural world is a mind to which all minds find their origin, their teacher and propermodel. Indigenous knowledge is the fruit of this cosmic stream, arising organically when the world itself breathes through and inspires human cultural manifestation… human cultural production is a natural organic expressionarising from the contours, shapes and colours of the environments in which we dwell.” (Charles Royal, An Organic Arising: An Interpretation of Tikanga Based upon Maori Creation Traditions, 2007)

“Indigenous customary law, like other sources of law, is dynamic by its very

nature. Like its subject matter—culture, practices, and traditions—it is not frozen in time. It has evolved with the socialdevelopment of Indigenous peoples. Indigenous customary law also has an inextricable communal nature. The socialstructures that recreate, exercise, and transmit this law through generations, and the protocols that govern theseprocesses, are deeply rooted in the traditional territories of Indigenous peoples, and, understandably, are inalienablefrom the land and environment itself.” (Merle Alexander 2007) 

These Are Our Laws: Let Us Live

“In some Indigenous Nations, the abstract subtlety of Indigenous customary law is indivisible from cultural expressionssuch as stories, designs, and songs. That is, a story may have an underlying principle of environmental law or naturalresource planning.” (John Borrows, Canada’s Indigenous Constitution, University of Toronto Press, 2010, p.24)

And John Burrows said:

“… some Indigenous laws have sacred sources. Laws can be regarded as sacred if they stem from the Creator, creation stories or revered ancient teachings that have survived the test of time. When laws exist in these categories, they are often given the highest respect.” (John Borrows, Canada’s Indigenous Constitution, University of Toronto Press, 2010, p.24)

“Let us live in peace and harmony to keep the land and all life in balance. Only prayer and meditation can do that.” (Hopi Elder Thomas Bayanca)

These Are Our Laws: Let Us Live

“It is the Creator’s way that all are taught to direct their energies toward the well-being of the unborn generations… The unborn generations’ faces come toward us from our Mother Earth. They are the community of human beings whose welfare our actions today affects, and it they who will judge what we who are living now leave to them.” (John Mohawk, Thinking in Indian: A John Mohawk Reader, Fulcrum Publishing, 2010. p.3)

“What justice there can be in depriving an owner of the land, which he has for many ages quietly possessed?” (Hugo Grotutois, On The Law of War and Peace, 1625, p. 92)

And Hugo Grotius said:

“There is no less injustice in setting up claims, under the pretense of newly discovered titles, to what belongs to another.” (Hugo Grotutois , On The Law of War and Peace, 1625, Chapter 4. p. 95)

These Are Our Laws: Let Us Live

Mishom said:

“See the forest out there where I live and hunt and trap. It’s a university out there, and I will teach you a bit about it. But you must go to the whiteman’s university” (The Late John Young) 

King George III said:

“… the several Nations of Tribes of Indians with whom We are connected, and who live under our Protection, should not be molested or disturbed in the Possession of such Parts of our Dominions and Territories as not having been ceded or purchased by Us, are reserved to them…” (The Royal Proclaimation 1763)

“As long as we do our ceremonies, we will survive.” (Chief Oren Lyons)

These Are Our Laws: Let Us Live


Illegal: Let Us Cry

Las Casas said:

“There are naked peoples wandering in the wilderness.” (Las Casas, October 12, 1492)

The next year the Pope said:

“We… by the authority of Almighty God conferred upon us in blessed Peter and of the vicarship of Jesus Christ, which we hold on earth… give, grant, and assign to you and your heirs and successors, kings of Castile and Leon, forever… all islands and mainlands found and to be found, discovered and to be discovered towards the west and south…With this proviso however that none of the islands and mainlands, found and to be found, discovered and to be discovered…be in the actual possession of any Christian king or prince.”  (POPE ALEXANDER VI, INTER CAETERA DIVINAE, 1493) 



Illegal: Let Us Cry

The British North America Act said:

 “It shall be lawful for the Queen… to make Laws for the Peace, Order, and good Government of Canada, in relation to… Indians and lands reserved for Indians” (BNA Act Section 91(24), 1867) 

Illegal: Let Us Cry

Deputy Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, Lawrence Vankoughnot said:

“The improvement and the elevation of the Indian Race, socially and morally . . . engages the earnest attention of the government. The legal status of the Indians of Canada is that of minors with the government as their guardians… “ (Deputy Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, Lawrence Vankoughnot, on the Indian Act  1876)

Sir John. A. MacDonald said:

“When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with its parents, who are savages, and though he may learn to read and write, his habits and training mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write. It has been strongly impressed upon myself, as head of the Department, that Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men” (Sir John. A. MacDonald From The House of Commons, Debates, 46 Vict. (May 9, 1883) 14:1107-1108.)

Illegal: Let Us Cry

Dr. Peter Bryce said:

“I believe the conditions are being deliberately created in our residential schools to spread infectious diseases… The mortality rate in the schools often exceeds fifty percent. This is a national crime.”  (Dr. Peter Bryce from his The Story of a National Crime, 1907.)

Duncan Campbell Scott said:

“I want to get rid of the Indian problem… Our object is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic, and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department.” (Duncan Campbell Scott, circa 1920 (LHF 2001)).

Illegal: Let Us Cry

Mom said: 

“The nuns in residential school told me if I did not pray I would end up on skid row. I didn’ know what skid row was. I thought it was an undesirable role in a skip rope game.” 

And Sir John A. Macdonald said:

“The great aim of our legislation has been to do away with the tribal system and assimilate the Indian people in all respects with the other inhabitants of the Dominion, as speedily as they are fit for the change.” Sir John Macdonald, 1887) 

The Indian Act Said: 

“… a Truant Officer may take into custody a child whom he believes on reasonable grounds to be absent from school contrary to this Act and may convey the child to school… using as much force as the circumstances requires.  (The Indian Act, Sect 119 (6), 1920) 

Illegal: Let Us Cry

“The happiest future for the Indian race is absorption into the general population, and this is the object and policy of our government.” (Duncan Campbell Scott, 1923)

And the Indian Act said: 

“Every Indian or person who engages in or assists in celebrating the Indian festival known as the “Potlach … is guilty of a misdemeanor, and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months and not less than 2 months. (The Indian Act 1884, Section 114)

Illegal: Let Us Cry

And the Indian Act said: 

“Every person who, without the consent of the Superintendent General expressed in writing, receives, obtains, solicits or requests from any Indian any payment or contribution or promise of any payment or contribution for the purpose of raising a fund or providing money for the prosecution of any claim which the Tribe or Band of Indians to which such Indian belongs, or of which he is a Member, has or is represented to have for the recovery of any claim or money for the said Tribe or Band, shall be guilty of an offense and liable upon summary conviction for each such offence to a penalty not exceeding two hundred dollars and not less than fifty dollars or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two months.” (The Indian Act, Section 141, 1927)

And the Indian Act said:

“Any Indian in the province of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, or the Territories who participates in any Indian dance outside the bounds of his own reserve, or who participates in any show, exhibition, performance, stampede or pageant in aboriginal costume without the consent of the Superintendent General of Indian Affairs or his authorized Agent, … shall on summary conviction be liable to a penalty not exceeding twenty-five dollars or to imprisonment for one month, or to both penalty and imprisonment.”  (The Indian Act, 1948) 

Illegal: Let Us Cry


New Laws, Revelations: Will We Live Again?

Mom said: 

 “They separated the boys and girls. When I just wanted to talk to my brother Joe, because we were close, they would accuse me of being “boy crazy.” (1st Story Shared, 2001)

The UNGC said: 

“In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

(The United Nations Convention for the Prevention and Punishment for the Crime of Genocide, Article 2, 1948) 

Mom Said: 

“They weren’t supposed to take children younger than 5, but I remember seeing your Aunts Doris and Easter in a room when they were 3. There was a man in there who seemed to be responsible for looking after all the babies.” (4th Story Shared, 2011)

“Imagine there’s no countries. It isn’t hard to do.” (John Lennon, Imagine, 1971)

Jeannette said:

“Imagine a world in which no culture dominates.” (Jeannette Armstrong, The Native Creative Process: A Collaborative Discourse, Theytus Books, 1991)

New Laws, Revelations: Will We Live Again?

The Constitution said:

“(1) The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.” (The Canada ActSection 35, 1982)

Prime Minister Trudeau 1 said:

“We need to figure how in twenty years from now how your people will be integrated into Canadian society. I don’t say assimilated, say integrated.” (Pierre Trudeau, First Ministers Conference on Aboriginal Constitutional Matters, 1982)

I said:

“What’s the difference?” (Gregory Younging, 1982)

“We are tired of surviving. We want to live. (Chief Saul Terry, 1990)

RCAP said:

“The Commission recommends that a renewed relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Canada be established on the basis of justice and fairness.” (The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, 1996)

And RCAP said:

“… Aboriginal nations have an inherent right to determine their own future within Canada and that the governments of Aboriginal nations should be recognized as a third order of government in the Canadian federation.”(The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, vol. 1, p.3)

And RCAP said 

“The Indian Act and associated government policies have had a significant and… detrimental impact on their consciousness as nations. The act has caused the breakup of Indian nations and the diffusion of their power… some people identify with their Indian Act band… Others identify with the nation… affiliation, for example, Cree, Mohawk, Gitksan, Kwakwa ka’wakw and Dene.” (The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Vol. 2, p. 246, 1996)

New Laws, Revelations: Will We Live Again?

Sara said:  

“I inherited the shame my mother carried [and didn’t share].  I felt guilty and I left home at 17 to get away because my family was plagued with alcoholism.  I resented my mother because she never game me a real father (I never met him), I grew up surrounded by violence, fighting.  I packed my bags, hitch-hiked across Canada… Later I enrolled in university and in my studies came across residential schools.” (Intergenerational Survivor, 1997)

 Prime Minister Harper said:

“We (Canada) have no history of colonialism. So we have all the things that many people admire, but of the things that threaten or bother them.” (Prime Minister Stephen Harper, September 25, 2009)

UNDRIP said:

“Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” (United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Article 3, 2007)

New Laws, Revelations: Will We Live Again?

“Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or other- wise used or acquired.

Indigenous peoples have the right to redress, by means that can include restitution or, when this is not possible, just, fair and equitable compensation, for the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used, and which have been confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged without their free, prior and informed consent.” (United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Article 26, 2007)

Kim said:

“Continued power imbalances will make it difficult for a reconciliation process to truly take root” (Stanton 2011:13)

And Kim said:

“While the TRC may fulfill some of the needs expressed by survivors for a reconciliation process, given the negligible involvement of the non-Indigenous public, it is hard to say whether reconciliation on a broader societal level can be initiated.” (Stanton 2011:14)

Glen said:

“Genuine reconciliation is impossible without recognizing Indigenous peoples’ right to freedom and self-determination, instituting restitution by returning enough of our lands so that we can regain economic self-sufficiency, and honoring our treaty relationships.” (Coulthard 2014:127) 

New Laws, Revelations: Will We Live Again?

Prime Minister Trudeau 2 said:

“It is time for a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations peoples, one that understands that the constitutionally guaranteed rights of First Nations in Canada are not an inconvenience but rather a sacred obligation.” (Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, December 5, 2014)

The TRC said:

“We call upon the Federation of Law Societies of Canada to ensure that lawyers receive appropriate cultural competency training, which includes the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal– Crown relations.” (The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report, Calls to Action # 27, 2015)

And the TRC said:

“We call upon law schools in Canada to require all law students to take a course in Aboriginal peoples and the law, which includes… Indigenous law.” (The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report, Calls to Action # 28, 2015) 

 “We call upon the Government of Canada, on behalf of all Canadians, to jointly develop with Aboriginal peoples a Royal Proclamation of Reconciliation to be issued by the Crown…The proclamation would include, but not be limited to, the following commitments: 

i. Repudiate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius

iv. Reconcile Aboriginal and Crown constitutional and legal orders to ensure that Aboriginal peoples are full partners in Confederation, including the recognition and integration of Indigenous laws and legal traditions…” (The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report, Calls to Action # 45, 2015)

And the TRC said:

“We call upon federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to provide education to public servants on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations… (The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report, Calls to Action #57, 2015)

And the TRC said:

“We call upon Canadian journalism programs and media schools to require education for all students on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations…” (The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report, Calls to Action # 86, 2015)

New Laws, Revelations: Will We Live Again?


More Resources:

On “Not the Juridical Terra Nullius You Imagined: Cry with Us.”

“In this work, the Collective sought to create a work that would use principles of Indigenous law to shift the focus on the need for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to stay longer with the grief of the losses. Andrea Hilland read the story aloud at the opening of the exhibit. This story addresses a death (of a Sasquatch) that flows from a reaction based on stereotype and fear, and makes visible the need for bravery in overcoming fear and guilt to bear witness to (and indeed to share in) the grief of those whose relatives have been lost. It is a story about the importance of grief shared…” read more from Rebecca Johnson at

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