- Category: news
- Created: Wednesday, 16 October 2013 14:59
- Published: Wednesday, 16 October 2013 14:59
- Written by Administrator 3
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Sarah Simpson / The Citizen (Cowichan Valley)
Respected elders, chiefs, mayors, councillors, judges, Mounties, and other dignitaries gathered in the Comeakin Room at the Quw'utsun' Cultural and Conference Centre on the morning of Friday, Oct. 11, for the official opening of Cowichan's First Nations court.
More than 100 people gathered for the occasion, which was highlighted with remarks from BC. Justice Minister Suzanne Anton, B.C. provincial court Chief Judge Thomas Crabtree and numerous Vancouver Island chiefs and elders.
"Today we need to acknowledge our strengths, our successes, our culture and the times-tested ability to work together," said Cowichan Tribes Chief Harvey Alphonse in his opening address.
"It's time we harmonize Crown policies, actions and decision making with a new legal order," Alphonse said."
A legal order that respects the Gladue rights of First Nations. This approach will bring together aboriginal advocates, aboriginal justice workers, aboriginal community workers and the legal community."With this new way of doing things, he added, the First Nations court proposes to bring sentencing options other than jail that can be traditional, cultural, holistic, restorative and create a more healing approach to sentencing.It won't be easy, he admitted.
"In all cases when new ways of doing things take place, no doubt there will be challenges, there will be mistakes, but more importantly, there will be learning. With adversity comes opportunity and the opportunity is here today," Alphonse said.
Since May, a First Nations court based on the successful New Westminster model has been operating in Cowichan.Not every aboriginal must attend the court for their sentencing but for the ones that do, they can expect a lot more involvement throughout the completion of their sentence.
An elders' advisory panel has been selected based on the advice of local chiefs.
That group has been trained in the court system but they also bring with them the knowledge of their traditions and cultural practices.
Cowichan Tribes elder Ernie Elliott sits on that panel.
"I consider it a real honour and a privilege to be sitting as an elder with the First Nations court," Elliott told the crowd.
"I don't have a law degree, I've never studied law, but what I depend on is what my elders have passed onto me from our ancestors that I try to share with our people who are appearing before the sitting judge," he said.
The goal, Elliott said, is to prevent repeat offenders and help direct offenders along the right path to becoming productive, upstanding members of the community.
"Our role, as I see it, is to assist the judge in handing down a sentence that is culturally appropriate or modified." Elliott explained. "We stress that they're not off the hook just because they're appearing before a First Nations court. They still have to accept responsibility for their actions," Elliott said.
"The elders remind the accused who they are, and how their actions impact the community and their family."Most of the cases since May deal with shoplifting, assault, and domestic abuse, he explained.
"What we try to do is share with that individual the fact that that's not in our teachings, that's not how we conduct ourselves. We need to respect each other as people, as human beings," he said.