Testify Abstract: Gwaii Edenshaw & Caleb Behn
Title: “Laws In Our Blood” (Haida Seawater, Dene Blood, Copper, Electrical Charge, Scarification)
Indigenous laws are embodied. We argue that Indigenous Laws can be derived/expressed via blood, water, land and that which we value and carry with us throughout our lives.
But what does it mean to carry such laws with us? To affirm Indigenous Law and to engage with it means what? How can we understand the privilege and obligation of affirmation/expression of our laws whilst engaging with the generative obligations we have as Indigenous legal professionals? What does might this mean within a colonial present that challenges a post-colonial future?
What pain are we willing to endure and what will we carry for the rest of our lives so that Indigenous laws may live?
We have sought to answer these questions through a simultaneously permanent & ephemeral work spanning mediums. The blood that provides half of the electrolyte ‘solution’ for the Electroetch was obtained in ceremony for a scarification Caleb Behn carries on his right forearm. The remaining half was sea water brought from Haida Gwaii by Gwaiai Edenshaw.
A ‘solution’ made from Dene blood, from Caleb Behn, and salt water from the seas of Haida gwaii make the mordant for this process based endeavour. The blood was drawn from Caleb in a scarification ceremony that he carries on his right forearm. The resulting potion is used to burn the words from sacred copper, so that we can put them to better use.
The words being burned out of the copper, section 35(1) of the Constitution, remain the most significant and contested affirmation of law for Indigenous peoples in Canada. In the process of burning this ‘law’ into copper we question the burning and destructive imposition of colonial law upon pre-existing indigenous law via “power”. We challenge you to think about what might come out of such a destructive process (the end result is not a “pretty” text, or readable even, but a copper plate ravaged as we extract the text from its body). The artists intended the finished work to reflect the resilient nature of indigenous law as well as its healing dimension.
The Indigenous Bar Association has been gifted the Copper following the etching process and travelling exhibition in keeping with protocol. The remaining ‘solution’ is an ink that the artists present as a gift and challenge to Indigenous Bar Association members as a means to further affirm/express indigenous laws. Rather than present a conclusion the artists suggest Indigenous Law necessitates a willingness of endure pain, hardship and lifelong consequence. This work is an affirmation of the power beneath the words commonly understood to protect Indigenous people and a means to forge that power via our learning, courage and creativity.
We offer the work and its resulting ‘solution’ as a means to continue that process of affirmation and expression that hopefully will span Turtle Island and engage our creative and generative abilities. The solution that is Indigenous law comes from our bodies, lands, waters and it means we all must continue to challenge ourselves in what we are willing to do and endure to affirm and carry our laws in this shared journey…
For those who were not at the gifting ceremony as the work was presented to the IBA we encourage you to engage those who were present to engage the ceremonial issues intrinsic to this work, notably the question of ‘standing’ to engage legal issues/obligations in others territory.
 Pictures of the ceremony and resulting scar are included. The feather itself replicates a tattoo Caleb obtained in his 2nd year of law school at UVic intended to hold the Speaking Feather Caleb was given by his Grandfather Chief George Behn who was the lead Plaintiff in Behn v. Moulton Contracting Ltd. 2013 SCC 26. The symmetrical image on Caleb’s forearms using tattoo and scarification represents a multi-modal affirmation of the importance of words/expression being articulated in a Good Way as a legal professionals and the necessity of carrying your law always.
Gwaai is a Haida artist known primarily for his metalwork. He also works with a variety of media including bone, slate, and wood.
Alongside being an illustrator, Gwaai also has a passion for story and language. He is a founding member of the K’aalts’idaa K’ah Storytelling Society.
Caleb Behn is Eh-Cho Dene and Dunne Za/Cree from the Treaty 8 Territory of Northeastern BC. He has recently graduated from the University of Victoria faculty of law. Prior to law school, he was the Oil and Gas Officer for the West Moberly First Nations and a Lands Manager for the Saulteau First Nations.