The Ethical Space of Engagement…. Willie Ermine Ethical Space Sculpture and Person

The “ethical space” is formed when two societies, with disparate worldviews, are poised to engage each other. It is the thought about diverse societies and the space in between them that contributes to the development of a framework for dialogue between human communities. The ethical space of engagement proposes a framework as a way of examining the diversity and positioning of Indigenous peoples and Western society in the pursuit of a relevant discussion on Indigenous legal issues and particularly to the fragile intersection of Indigenous law and Canadian legal systems. Ethical standards and the emergence of new rules of engagement through recent Supreme Court rulings call for a new approach to Indigenous-Western dealings. The new partnership model of the ethical space, in a cooperative spirit between Indigenous peoples and Western institutions, will create new currents of thought that flow in different directions of legal discourse and overrun the archaic ways of interaction.


The word ethics is defined here as the capacity to know what harms or enhances the well-being of sentient creatures. To speak about the harms or enhancements to humanity inevitably launches our discussion into the arena of morality and the edifice of our civilization. Additionally, ethics entertains our personal capacity and our integrity to stand up for our cherished notions of good, responsibility, duty, obligations, etc.

With our ethical standards in mind, we necessarily have to think about the transgression of those standards by others and how our actions may also infringe or violate the spaces of others. Therefore, a discourse on ethics also includes the serious reflection of those crucial lines we draw to delineate our personal autonomous zones and demarcation of boundaries others should not cross. Each of us knows our own boundaries, the contours of our sacred spaces that we claim for ourselves as autonomous actors in the universe. These are our basic personal boundaries, the moral thresholds that we will not cross and we are equally sensitive to others infringing or imposing on those spaces.

We also think about boundaries that are imposed by family, perhaps our clan systems or our extended families that have become the spaces of our retreat. We have certain moral architectures built by our families that are taboo to cross lest we create dishonor. There are also boundaries imposed by our cultural imperatives such as the community ethos in each of our communities. In Indigenous societies, the Elders and the oral traditions provide us with the codes of conduct as human beings within our communities.

Additionally, there are those ethical boundaries established by collective principles, such as our knowledge systems, the autonomy of our human communities, or our treaties. This is a heritage from our past that not only informs us of our roots to antiquity and the rights to traditions entrusted to our people, but it also reminds us of what is important in life as we collectively negotiate the future. The spirit of that existence is inviolable, particularly by the actions of other human communities. The sacred space of the ethical helps us balance these moral considerations as we discuss issues that are trans-cultural, or trans-boundary in nature. The discourse surrounding the intersection of Indigenous and Canadian law [worldviews] needs perspectives that create clarity and ethical certainty to the rules of engagement between diverse human communities. With this notion of ethics, and juxtaposed on the broader collective level, we come to the inescapable conclusion about our own agency in the kind of civilization we create to live in.

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