Traditional Aboriginal and Inuit Judicial Proceedings

A Comparative Study

Christophe Darmangeat


This article draws on a review of the literature to provide an inventory of procedures and sanctions relating to the exercise of justice and law in traditional Australian and Inuit societies—in the broad sense, the social management of conflicts. The Inuit conception of judicial action is highlighted, which, unlike Australian practices, emphasizes psychological and social dimensions rather than physical sanctions. Here, I use an analytical grid previously developed for Australia to classify the procedures observed among the Inuit. This approach is articulated around three formal criteria (symmetry, moderation, and designation) and reveals a sharp dichotomy in Inuit peoples between Alaska and the eastern Canadian and Greenlandic regions. The east is marked by the almost total absence of collective designation procedures, in any form whatsoever, with the possible and rare exception of the regulated battle. This absence explains the limited extent of warfare—at least, internal to the Inuit groups—and low-intensity feuding in this region. Alaska, contrarily, experienced several variants of collective actions, including feuds and judicial warfare.

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