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Indigenous Law


Indigenous Law​

The study of Indigenous or Aboriginal law includes:

  • the laws of indigenous peoples (for example, the tribal codes and constitutions of Native Americans)
  • treaties between indigenous groups and the Crown (government)
  • government laws that create rights and obligations specifically and only affecting indigenous people. These can be:
    • entire Acts - for example, Australia's Native Title Act and Canada's Indian Act; or
    • specific provisions in Acts  - for example s 718.2(e) of the Canadian Criminal Code, which applies to sentencing of aboriginal offenders.
  • the relationship between indigenous people and the general legal system (for example, indigenous people and the criminal justice system)

This Research Guide will help you research indigenous law in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States of America. 

Indigenous law often involves human rights and discrimination law. To research indigenous peoples in the context of human rights law, see our Human Rights Legal Research guide - the National/Domestic Human Rights tab links to pages for Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA. 

A note on terminology when researching indigenous law - 'indigenous' is a generic term, as are First Peoples and Aboriginal / Aborigine. Terminology also changes over time. Remember to use additional variants depending on the jurisdiction you are researching. For example:

  • USA = Native American or American Indian. Also use 'Tribal Law' when researching.
  • Canada = Aboriginal or Indigenous is the generic term used for the three major groups: First Nations (or Indians), Inuit and Métis
  • Australia = Indigenous Australian, Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islanders (Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Island peoples are indigenous peoples), First Nations. 'Native Title' is a term used for the rights of indigenous people to land.
  • New Zealand = Maori. Maori groups include whānau (extended families), hapū (sub-tribes) and iwi (tribes).

Books - international, covering several jurisdictions, or non-jurisdictional 


Guide Author 

This Research Guide is created and maintained by the MLS Academic Research Service, Melbourne Law School.

Please contact us at law-academicresearch@unimelb.edu.au with corrections, suggestions or comments about the Guide.