Talented researcher recognized with SSHRC Impact Award

(Edmonton) Hadley Friedland, a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Law who is pursuing the link between traditional Aboriginal storytelling and contemporary justice, has won a $50,000 Impact Award from the federal government’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) to continue her research.

Friedland, whose research interest is in indigenous legal traditions and legal theory, with a particular focus on Cree law, was one of three finalists in the Impact Awards’ talent category, which was designed to recognize a researcher who has demonstrated clear potential to be a future leader within and outside the academic sector.

“I'm a legal scholar, but I think the social sciences are crucial for moving forward in a way where we bring all our imagination and the full capacity of our society to bear on all the really difficult issues we’re all facing right now,” said Friedland in accepting the award at the World Social Science Forum in Montreal Oct. 15.

Friedland, a mother of two Cree children, used a 2011 Vanier Graduate Scholarship to begin exploring how Cree legal principles can be practically applied to address today’s issues, with possible applications to governance, criminal and family law issues, and consultation on Aboriginal and treaty rights. Her work builds on her master’s thesis that, in the context of child victimization, studied stories of the Windigo, a dreaded figure who brought harm to a community.

She sees the Windigo stories as part of a legal category containing principles for dealing with violent offenders. Her PhD research, currently titled Reclaiming the Language of Law: Exploring the Contemporary Articulation and Application of Cree Legal Principles in Canada, focuses on how to identify and articulate indigenous legal principles, and whether and how they can be accessed, understood and applied today.

Her approach to this pressing question is to take indigenous laws seriously as laws. She has built on the work of contemporary indigenous scholars to develop a method for investigating indigenous legal principles with the same rigour required to seriously engage with state laws in Canadian law schools. Using this adapted “case brief” method to analyze a number of published and oral stories, as well as other available resources, for potential legal principles, Friedland synthesizes the results into an analytical framework that organizes the principles in a convenient, accessible and understandable form.

“This [SSHRC award] honours the work in recognizing indigenous legal traditions and finding ways to go beyond saying why they should be part of Canada and showing how it can be done,” said Friedland. “I think the indigenous, academic and professional interest in my work so far demonstrates the growing interest in finding ways to respectfully engage with indigenous legal traditions, within and across these communities. If my work is contributing to that, then it is worthwhile work.”

Patricia Clements, professor emerita in the Department of English and Film Studies was also an Impact Award finalist in the partnership category for her work on The Orlando Project, an ongoing collaborative experiment on the use of digital technology to engage in women's literary history.

—with notes from Katherine Thompson