LOWER NICOLA, BC — According to the most recent report by Statistics Canada, aboriginal adults represent 3% of the population of Canada, yet they represent around 26% of admissions into provincial and territorial correctional services. Three bands in the Nicola Valley are hoping to reduce the number of their members who get caught up in the judicial system, as they celebrated the opening of the Nicola Valley Indigenous Court.
It was a historic day for three Indian bands of the Nlaka’pamux Nation, as they celebrated the opening of the Nicola Valley Indigenous Court today at the Shulus Arbour in Lower Nicola.
“This will be an opportunity for First Nations offenders to be accountable to their own communities and have the communities themselves, the elders… provide input into their healing plans.,” Lower Nicola Chief Aaron Sam explained.
The new court is a sentencing court. It brings together the provincial judicial system as well as elders from the Nicola Valley community, to utilize traditional forms of justice to help rehabilitate aboriginal offenders.
This court is the fifth of it’s kind in the province. The offender must first admit their guilt before they’re able to take part in the cooperative proceedings. The judge then relies on input from the elders before making the final sentencing decision.
“The elders really are the connection, or the bridge, between the court and the person who’s appearing in the court,” BC Provincial Court Chief Judge Thomas Crabtree told CFJC Today. “Those wise people that have… traditional knowledge, [and are] aware of traditional laws, and are attempting to bring the process together."
For Chief Aaron Sam, who used to work as defence lawyer, the accountability to one’s community and that built-in support system makes all the difference for those who really trying to turn their lives around
“People are able to stay in their community, and have people and elders they know involved,” Sam explained. “That really creates an opportunity where the offender… is held accountable to the community and the people he or she actually knows.”
The first sitting of the Nicola Valley Indigenous Court will be on October 25, 2017.
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