BY BILL PHILLIPS
It wasn’t until Chief Dominic Frederick finished his speech that he really started to talk.
His prepared speech for the opening the Prince George Indigenous Court Friday was full of what one might expect … welcoming remarks, recognition of elders and visiting dignitaries, and thanks.
As soon as he was done, however, he took advantage of the fact Attorney General David Eby was sitting front-and-centre among the crowd of close to 300 gathered for the historic opening.
“There needs to be more support from the government on this,” he said. “Our elders are our most precious people, they’re like jewels to us. Sure you can use our elders, but treat them right. Treat them with respect. Pay them good, just like everyone else. Don’t use them as token Indians just so you can have your court. They’re doing a job that nobody else wants to do.”
The central piece of the Indigenous Court is the Prince George Elders Justice Council, comprised of Violet Bozoki, Ray Izony, Loretta Adams, Tom Reece, and Marcel Gagnon. They will participate in the Indigenous Court by assisting in the restorative justice approach, which considers the physical, spiritual, emotional and mental aspects when bringing justice.
“If it’s done right, we think it will work,” Frederick said of the newly opening Indigenous Court. “At the end of the day we don’t want to place the blame on each other for whatever happens.”
His remarks weren’t lost on Eby who said the elders, the jewels, will get what they need.
“We want you to succeed, we need you succeed,” he said. “We want, as a government, to give you the tools to succeed. I take very seriously the cautions from Chief Dominic about needing to have the resources necessary so that the jewels of this court can shine. Really, the light of these jewels and work of these elders, is what is going to ensure the success of this court.”
The Prince George Indigenous Court will open in April. The court is a sentencing court. It provides an indigenous perspective, based on a holistic and restorative approach, to sentencing indigenous persons who have acknowledged responsibility for their criminal offence(s). Local indigenous elders and knowledge keepers who have completed a program of orientation give advice on a healing plan. The healing plan may then be incorporated as part of a fit sentence for the Indigenous person who has pled guilty.
Chief Justice Thomas Crabtree said the court, the sixth such court in the province, will provide positive outcomes for Indigenous Peoples who come in contact with the justice system.
“The Indigenous Court is but one option,” he said. “But it is a way that in which the community, government, and the courts can come together to craft a response to the over-representation of Indigenous Peoples in the criminal justice system.”
He pointed out that the Indigenous Court builds on the Supreme Court’s Gladue decision of almost 20 years in which it determined the courts must take into account an Indigenous person’s history.