Image retrieved from https://www.akwesasne.ca/justice.
We continue our coverage of last week’s Aboriginal Law Speaker Series, organized by the Indigenous Law Students’ Association and hosted by the Faculty of Law. Wednesday’s speaker was Joyce King, Director of the Department of Justice of the Akwesasne Court. Her presentation was entitled, “An Indigenous Justice System: You want it, we got it.”
King spoke of the Mohawks of Akwesasne, and their creation of a justice system by and for Indigenous people. The unique principles of the Akwesasne justice system differ from that of the Canadian common law system, which is often based on themes of societal order and standards of conduct. Instead, the Akwesasne justice system reflects unique principles to the Mohawk, such as a kinship/clan system, emphasis on collective rights, as well as principles of Ka’nikonriio (good mind). Their justice system reflects their values of peace, respect, trust, openness and friendship. In addition, it is “in the spirit of the two row wampum,” which enables the Mohawks of Akwesasne to negotiate in good faith on a government to government basis, as well as “in the spirit of the Royal Proclamation (1763),” which ensures the protection of the inherent rights of all.
King went on to explain that the Akwesasne justice system involves not only the Akwesasne Court in the adjudication stage, but also plays a role in the legislative, or lawmaking stage, as well as in the enforcement of those laws. In other words, there are three parts to their justice system: 1) Law-Making, 2) Adjudication, and 3) Enforcement.
In terms of law-making, the principles which guide the legislative development of the Akwesasne are grounded in: the Wolf Belt (the “Charter” to the Akwesasne, with each bead representing a person’s agreeance), traditional law principles (peace, strength, righteousness), UNDRIP, the Royal Proclamation (1763), the Constitution Act (1867) and Constitution Act (1982) section 35, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and section 81 of the Indian Act. Considerations to potential legislative enactments include whether or not the law is consistent with community values, in line with self-determination and jurisdiction, and ensures the continuity between past relationships, rights and treaties. Akwesasne laws created to date include the Akwesasne Election Law (2005), Akwesasne Tekaia’torehtha:ke Kaianerenhsera/Court Law (2016), Akwesasne Wildlife Conservation Law (1989), and Ethical Conduct Law (1997) – to name only a few.
Within the adjudicative stage, King described the “Vision for Akwesasne,” which includes an all Indigenous court (Justices, prosecutors, defense counsel, clerks), with community-driven sentences/sanctions. The “justice needs” of the Mohawk community thus involve addressing the core problems of the offender in an effort to reduce recidivism, as well as protecting the rights of the community and individuals involved. Remedies are thus flexible, and include: remediation (fines/penalties), the offender taking responsibility for their actions, restoration (ie. community service), or restitution. In addition, orders made within the Akwesasne Court must respect a restorative justice approach.
Enforcement and compliance with the law is then overseen by the Akwesasne Police Commission (Akwesasne Mohawk Police Service). Their workforce is made up of compliance officers and conservation officers, who may impose sanctions such as denial of non-essential services for community members not abiding by the law.
King’s discussions of an Indigenous justice system sparked much excitement for those in the audience who envisioned a similar system within their own home communities. King highlighted the challenges to an Indigenous-run justice system – integration, expansion, Indigenization, and funding; however, despite these challenges, the Akwesasne justice system has nonetheless paved a path for Indigenous communities to follow. Perhaps with more Indigenous justice systems implemented nationwide, we can begin to address these challenges, and come up with solutions to ensure Indigenous legal traditions continue to thrive.
Until next time,
Team ReconciliAction YEG
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