Jane Glassco Northern Fellows, left to right: Melaina Sheldon, Thomsen D’Hont, M

Jane Glassco Northern Fellows, left to right: Melaina Sheldon, Thomsen D’Hont, Meagan Grabowski, Jessica Black, Jordan Peterson, Clara Wingnek, Dawn Tremblay, Samantha Dawson and Angela Nuliayok Rudolph in Deline, NWT, during their Yellowknife Gathering in April 2017. / photo by / Pat Kane

REDUCING THE over incarceration of Indigenous people is an ongoing policy concern across the Territorial North. Different First Nations and jurisdictions are actively exploring different justice models to better serve the diverse needs of Indigenous communities.

Nän K’alädàtth’ät: Changing Times, Continuing Ways is a new policy paper from Samantha Dawson, Jessica Black, Melaina Sheldon, Jordan Peterson and Meagan Grabowski of the Jane Glassco Northern Fellowship program. The paper offers a re-evaluation of court options for the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations (CAFN) of the southern Yukon who are working on establishing their own administration of justice. 

The Teslin Tlingit Peacemaker Court (TTC) Model affords the council to create its own laws and to appoint individuals to enforce and prosecute those laws. 

The Jane Glassco Northern Fellowship is a two-year policy development program for emerging leaders from the Territorial North and Inuit Nunangat. At the end of the program, the fellows publish policy recommendations.

In Nän K’alädàtth’ät, the fellows look at the status quo and then present four options for the establishment of a CAFN court system within the CAFN Administration of Justice Framework.

The recommendations presented include a hybrid court option, which combines mainstream court structures with traditional, customized First Nations justice measures. This approach would include permitting Elders to speak in court and providing more spaces for community voices in order to accommodate Indigenous legal knowledge and applicable principles within the mainstream court system.

The fellows also looked at the Teslin Tlingit Peacemaker Court (TTC) Model, which came into effect in 2011. Teslin Tlingit is located south of Whitehorse and its Council began the implementation of their Administration of Justice Act in 2011.

The TTC model affords the Teslin Tlingit Council the authority to create its own laws and to appoint individuals to enforce and prosecute those laws. The implementation of the Act will be conducted in phases, with the second phase of implementation focusing on criminal justice matters.

Next, the fellows explored establishing a CAFN Indigenous court based on 14 existing (including the TTC) and four planned models in Canada and two in the United States. These courts are all slightly different and reflect the cultural diversity of North American First Nations. According to the fellows, these courts advance Indigenous self-determination and promote greater autonomy.

The fellows also note that all three of these options have disadvantages for the CAFN. For instance, all of the above options come with the need for ongoing negotiations with and supports from the federal and territorial governments. The fellows caution that these levels of government “may be reluctant to negotiate alternative court options or relinquish authority.”

The Canadian Criminal Code limits and restricts the CAFN’s autonomy and authority when establishing a criminal justice system. The TTC model is an example of these limitations in practice. The Peacemaker Court cannot impose sentences greater than $5000 or six months imprisonment.

Finally, CAFN faces the challenge of building and maintaining a full court system within a small community with limited resources.

The preferred policy option for the fellows is an integrated or shared Indigenous court system. They caution that it could take up to 20 years for such a system to be fully implemented. Although it is a long-term vision, an integrated court would create a system where First Nation values, laws and principles are more adequately reflected. It would also support the sharing of resources and responsibilities between multiple nations.

To read the full policy report as well as other policy work from the Jane Glassco Northern Fellows, please visit GordonFoundation.ca/resources/fellowship.

The Gordon Foundation is a charitable organization dedicated to protecting Canada’s water and empowering Canada’s North. The Jane Glassco Northern Fellowship is a crucial part of our mission to promote innovate public polices for the North and amplify Northern voices.

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