Indigenous environmental litigation against settler colonialism: Sakshi Aravind, Sacred Justices: Seeking Indigenous Environmental Justice in Courts, PhD dissertation, Cambridge University, 2022


Abstract: This thesis studies how courts encounter and engage with Indigenous environmental justice (IEJ) in litigation pursued by Indigenous communities in Australia, Brazil, and Canada. The thesis advances IEJ as a principle that may be framed, used and developed in juridical spaces. The research draws from existing scholarship, primarily Indigenous scholarship, and offers an intellectual map of IEJ that is a receptacle for, amongst others, plural sovereignties, Indigenous epistemologies, and land-environment-cultural relationships. To this end, the thesis proposes a conceptual understanding of law as a narrative and adjudication as knowledge production. It argues that legal knowledge production enables courts to be a part of epistemic communities that remedy present environmental harms and past injustices that are engendered in settler colonialism. Indigenous voices become paramount for such knowledge production. The thesis explores how Indigenous voices are received within adjudication through doctrinal analysis of Indigenous environmental litigation in the three jurisdictions. Further, it examines what implications such reception has for the outcome of the litigation and the framing of IEJ. The materials studied here testify to the innate ability of courts to draw from existing laws generously and innovate where necessary in order to answer the difficult questions of justice and sovereignty raised by Indigenous environmental litigation. Whilst courts are accustomed to certain forms of litigation, contemporary environmental pressures demand conceptual apparatus of a different kind. Although legitimacy and integrity are highly valued within juridical spaces, they are not immutable concepts. The thesis argues that IEJ provides an opportunity to reconfigure juridical integrity by including Indigenous voices and challenging settler colonial legality through settler courts. In addition, it also makes a case for juridical openness, where present courts may deal with questions of Indigenous sovereignty more sympathetically to allow future jurisprudence to assume more radical standpoints.

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