When the Witsuwit'en and neighbouring Gitksan launched their court case to establish aboriginal ownership and jurisdiction of 55,000 square kilometers of land, they requested several expert witnesses, including the anthropologist Antonia Mills, to submit reports on their behalf. Mills' submission on Witsuwit'en laws, feasts and institutions was based on her two years of participant research and her extensive readings of pertinent ethnological, archeological, linguistic materials, etc. In 1991, Judge Allan McEachern ruled in Delgamuukw v. the Queen that the Witsuwit'en and Gitksan could not have Aboriginal title. Antonia Mills' Eagle Down is Our Law: Witsuwit'en Law, Feasts and Land Claims (UBC Press, 1994) consists of her submission, introduced by Chief Gisdaywa (Alfred Joseph) of the Witsuwit'en, Chief Mas Gak (Don Ryan) of the Gitksan, anthropologist Michael Kew and legal scholar Michael Jackson. "Eagle down,"; writes Mas Gak (Don Ryan), "is sacred among the Gitksan and Witsuwit'en peoples and is a symbol of peace. It is used to sanctify the beginning of our peacemaking process ... The Gitskan and Witsuwit'en have yet to use eagle down in their dealings with the Crown in Canada. [We] have been waiting almost two centuries to make peace with the Crown ... Eagle down gives us optimism. We have kept the eagle down for thousands of years because it works. Eagle down is our law."; The first Witsuwit'en to give evidence in the Delgamuukw land claims case in 1985 was 90-year-old Chief Maxlaxlex, better known as Johnny David. Mills was present in the makeshift courtroom, set up in David's own home, as he concluded, "If you hang onto these words, everything will be all right." As an Associate Professor in the First Nations Program at the University of Northern British Columbia, she edited the transcriptions of his evidence and the resultant dialogues between lawyers from both sides for 'Hang Onto These Words' (University of Toronto Press, 2005).

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Eagle Down is Our Law: Witsuwit'en Law, Feasts, and Land Claims


Mills, Antonia (editor). 'Hang Onto These Words': Johnny David's Delgamuukw Land Claims Evidence (University of Toronto, 2005)
Mills, Antonia Curtze. Eagle Down is Our Law: Witsuwit'en Law, Feasts and Land Claims (UBC Press, 1994).

[BCBW 2005] "First Nations" "Anthropology"