Written by Mike Aiken
Regional Chief Stan Beardy of the Chiefs of Ontario offered some remarks on the opening of the new court house in Thunder Bay .
Before he became regional chief, Stan Beardy was the grand chief for the remote communities of Nishnawbe Aski Nation. So, he's very familiar with the issues facing northern First Nations.
"It's only when people understand what the issue is that we can come up with solutions," he said.
"We're so very hopeful with the new law school in Thunder Bay that, in future generations, we'll be able to understand why there's such a huge gap in terms of who's in jail and who's not in jail."
While First Nations people make up only three or four per cent of the population, they often make up the vast majority of prison populations across the province.
In the Kenora District, the situation is even more pronounced. Beardy notes 131 of 139 inmates at the jail last year were from First Nations.
"When you look at those statistics, in terms of people that are in jail, I don't know if it's so much that they committed serious crimes. I think what we need to understand here, is that yes, Canada has an excellent, excellent legal system, but there is no justice system for First Nations people," he said.
At the official opening of the Thunder Bay court house, the regional chief was pleased to see accommodations for cultural ceremonies and practices.
However, he'd like to go further. He'd like to see changes in the legal system, so that aboriginal people didn't end up at the court house in the first place.
The regional chief is hopeful the new law school at Lakehead University will help new lawyers to understand and take advantage of alternatives, such as healing circles and diversion strategies for less serious crimes.