New reform committee seeks

SIX NATIONS – A new elders council has been formed to assist in offering advice and council to the attorney General of Ontario as they seek a more culturally responsive justice system in light of the disproportionate incarceration levels of First Nations people.

Although it appears the Trudeau government has been making great strides in Canada’s reconciliation with First Peoples, to some it is too slow of a process; to others they see initiatives like this one a positive step forward.

Thirteen indigenous elders from across Canada have been chosen to represent the indigenous worldview and culture as Ontario moves forward in recognizing round pegs do not easily fit in square holes.

One of those selected was Six Nations elder, Janice Kahehti:io Longboat, Mohawk Elder from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory.

“I was very pleased to be asked,” says Longboat. “If I was to be asked what is the one issue I would like to see this committee accomplish it would be cultural resurgence.”

But there is a long way to go yet. After their second meeting of four scheduled per year, they are still working on clarifying the mandate and setting up the structure, but that is all necessary before they begin the hard work of educating and instructing the judicial system in traditional methods and cultural awareness.

At last Tuesday’s media conference, Ontario’s Indigenous Relations Minister, David Zimmer, acknowledged that there must be changes in the way the justice systems works in the criminal justice system.

“We are working closely with indigenous people on new approaches that are culturally appropriate and respect traditional practices,” stated Zimmer in a release.

“The work of the elders council is critical to those efforts as part of the journey of reconciliation.”

Part of the problem to be targeted specifically is the recognition of what has been called the Gladeau principle where a court is to give more serious consideration to the special circumstances of Aboriginal offenders and to avoid incarceration where possible. This principle came out of Supreme Court of Canada decision in 1999.

Not yet one year in office, Trudeau took the brunt of former Harper Conservative government in its failure in providing rehabilitation programs for indigenous offenders, and the few number of incarcerated indigenous men and women who can afford bail, forcing them to serve maximum time in jail or prison.

Auditor general Michael Ferguson was highly critical of Correctional Services Canada calling the situation “beyond unacceptable”.

Others selected to sit on this panel of elders include: Barney Batise, Katsi Cook, Helen Cromarty, Donna Debassige, Albert Dumont, Alex Jacobs, Verna Porter-Brunelle, Verna Pierre, David Serkoak, Pauline Shirt, Gilbert Smith, Sally Webster in addition to Elder Longboat.

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