First Laws

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‘First laws’ refer to the laws and legal systems of the First Peoples of the continent now known as Australia.

The following are statements about First Laws, by Indigenous people in Australia:

“Indigenous Peoples associate their own laws with the laws of the natural world, which are formally known as or translated as Natural or First Law. These laws come from the Creator and the Land through our ancestral stories and therefore, they are sacred. All aspects of life and existence depend on living and following these natural First Laws. Since colonization, Indigenous Peoples’ Natural Laws have been forcibly replaced by modern-day laws that do not take into account the sacred relationship between the Earth and all of her inhabitants. The force of societies who live outside of Natural Law has ensured the modern-day consequences of not living in balance with nature. Pandemics and global environmental change, including climate change, are all consequences of not following the Natural Laws that are encapsulated by the interconnected nature of the universe.” [1]

“First Nations Peoples’ law is of the beginning: of the first songs, sung by the ancestors.  When the first steps were walked across the ruwe, country was sung into creation.  Law conceived as a way of living is difficult to write about and cannot simply be described or easily translated into a foreign language that is empty of the ideas that our law ways carry.  Our law was not written in the way in which the West conceives of writing.  Law was painted in ceremonial design and symbols were marked on boundary markers, identifying traditional owners and their ngaitjis.  The differences between Nunga and non-Aboriginal legal systems are so extensive that there is no basis upon which comparison can be drawn …… (Aboriginal) law is the essential basis of social conduct: respect, reciprocity and caring for country to name a few. These ethical principles convey the essential nature of the law.” [2]



[1] Redvers, N., Poelina, A., Schultz, C., Kobei, D., Githaiga, C., Perdrisat, M., Prince, D., & Blondin, B. (2020). Indigenous Natural or First Law in planetary health. Challenges, 11(2), [29].

[2] Irene Watson, “Aboriginal Peoples, Colonialism and International Law: Raw Law”, (Routledge 2015), p.22