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It's a new year and let's make a resolution to work together to bring reconciliation to our people.

Since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Call To Action report there have been questions about:

What does reconciliation mean? What sort of things need to happen to affect change?

For us, reconciliation, at least in part, means that there needs to be a reinstatement of the powers of governance that we had before the colonial powers took unilateral control. Prior to European arrival, Indigenous societies functioned independently where some of these practices were so admired for their democratic values they were used for the foundations of the governance of the United States of America. The U.S. Congress passed a resolution to acknowledge the Iroquois Confederacy for its historical contribution to the structure of the Constitution and Government of the United States. 

Of importance to reconciliation in justice is Call to Action 42. "We call upon the federal, provincial, and territorial governments to commit to the recognition and implementation of Aboriginal justice systems in a manner consistent with the Treaty and Aboriginal rights of Aboriginal peoples, the Constitution Act, 1982, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, endorsed by Canada in November 2012."

The strengths to how we governed ourselves, included our own form of dispute resolution through a collaborative approach to resolving conflicts, with societal interaction oriented toward the future by cooperative action. Now is the time to begin to revive our practices of Indigenous justice to restore harmony between individuals involved and the collective society and community, whether it is the family, as part of the community or the Nation as a whole.

To illustrate this consider the existing Canadian Justice System as it operates. Here at home justice in our experience as it is now is disconnected from community life and our people - Justice comes and Justice goes with the Court Party. It operates on the notion that justice is only accessible externally, separate and apart from our realities and without community recognition and engagement. This is not unique to us. In many places in the country when anyone needs the services of our police or courts there often seems to be little or nothing that can be done. Across the land, drugs are still being sold in our neighbourhoods and schools, our women and girls suffer violence and go missing and murdered, our stolen property is lost forever and the violence we see seems to be sometimes unaddressed and all of this without any opportunity for citizens and communities to get involved. This creates both distrust and disdain for the judicial process that leaves our people to feel powerless and removed from participating in bringing safety and security to the place they live. For ages, First Nation governments have engaged the entire community in such matters and it is necessary to reignite the collective to reengage the people once again.

Reengaging the community in the processes of the Justice System brings reinstatement of those lost powers of governing ourselves and further, with it, brings reconciliation. For a meaningful access to justice it fundamentally begins with bringing the understanding to our community members that the law belongs to them, to us. It is altogether possible to create a justice system that combines elements of the Canadian justice system with Cree Nation values and principles.

A simple place to start may be to create a body that undertakes part of the role of a Magistrate. Imagine a judiciary committee comprised of 5 members (comprised of community Elders and legally trained personnel) that receive reports from those who have observed or experienced offences. The committee then considers and determines the actions to be taken and subsequently tasks the  police to undertake these actions. At its root, this is a similar kind of work as a Magistrate with the added advantage of more fully engaging people in the community.

With this, people will feel empowered when protecting the community and potential offenders may be further deterred. This would help to bring reconciliation.

There are many other opportunities to bring power back to First Nations and we should consider a courthouse facility to bring access to justice directly to the community, embraced by the people with the empowerment of understanding that the law belongs to them. In this way, to use an old maxim by a American jurist a hundred years ago who said "Justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done." This means that from this perspective, the appearance of justice is best served by judges who are reflective of the community they are appointed to serve. 

While we contemplate this New Year, lets consider reconciliation, repatriating powers to our First Nation governments and let's start with reengaging people in the Justice System and the preservation of safety and security in the community.

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