Helping Indigenous Peoples in the justice system find a pathway to healing is the goal of Hazelton Indigenous Court, which is celebrating one year of service to the local community.
The court, which is the eighth of its kind in B.C, was established by the Province in consultation with the Hazelton Indigenous Court Council, the Provincial Court and local First Nations, Elders and leaders, as part of the government’s ongoing commitment to address the over-representation of Indigenous Peoples in the justice system. Each Indigenous court takes a holistic and restorative justice approach to sentencing and is uniquely designed to meet the needs of the community it serves.
“The over-representation of Indigenous Peoples in the criminal justice system is rooted in long-standing systemic racism and intergenerational trauma,” said Murray Rankin, Attorney General. “Our government is committed to working with Indigenous Peoples to address the challenges they experience with solutions that honour their cultural and spiritual needs. Hazelton Indigenous Court’s one-year anniversary demonstrates the meaningful change we can make when we work together.”
In its first year, Hazelton Indigenous Court hosted 11 sittings and created 10 healing plans, which are programs that help people address the root causes behind their convictions and make amends.
“The joining of the Ayookx with the court system and the provincial courts is only the beginning,” said Wii Eeleast (Jim Angus), a Hereditary Chief and president of the Upper Skeena Counselling and Legal Assistance Society board. “After today, we’re going to be able to apply who we are and how we counsel our youth and our young people to how we serve the sentence. We’re applying our authority to the court system and it’s about time. It may just be the beginning of the changes that may come for our people.”
In an Indigenous court, the participant works with a customized team of people, including Elders, a judge and a lawyer or duty counsel, to create a healing plan intended to restore balance among the participants, victims and community. Healing plans address the factors that contributed to the offence in the first place and incorporate Indigenous rehabilitation approaches to make amends, set the participant on a healthful path and reduce the risk of re-offending.
Healing plans may include tasks such as community service, participating in sweats and healing circles, and attending counselling sessions. Regular reviews are conducted to check on the participant’s progress and offer additional supports where needed.
Next month, two participants will have completed their healing plans and graduated, with new knowledge, a stronger connection to their cultures and wrap-around supports, such as housing, mental-health and addiction supports, employment services and health care.
The creation of Hazelton Indigenous Court supports the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act Action Plan commitments. This includes the prioritization and implementation of the First Nations Justice Strategy to reduce the substantial over-representation of Indigenous Peoples involved in and affected by the justice system, affirming First Nations self-determination, and enabling the restoration of traditional justice systems and culturally relevant institutions.
Axwindesxw (Tony Morgan), member, Hazelton Indigenous Court Elders Council –
“We’re glad to be able to work together as Elders in the court system and work with the judge and the counsel. It’s a big step toward reconciliation and we’re glad we’re able to work together.”
Virginia Dewitt, member, Hazelton Indigenous Court Elders Council –
“When our young people come to court, they can feel at ease and that their voices are being heard.”
Djogaslee (Ted Mowatt), Hereditary Chief –
“It’s important that we all learn each other’s laws as the Gitxsan and Aboriginal people have learned the Western laws. It’s a law that can’t be pushed aside. It’s got to be married to the Western laws and understood by all. We cannot live under one law of the non-native people. We have our law that needs to be learned by the non-native people. Having the two nations – the non-native and the Aboriginal people – learning each other's laws… then things will work out.”
- The Indigenous courts in B.C. are:
- New Westminster First Nations Court
- North Vancouver Chet wa nexwníw̓ ta S7eḵw’í7tel Indigenous Court
- Kamloops Cknucwentn First Nations Sentencing Court
- Duncan First Nations Court
- Nicola Valley Indigenous Court
- Prince George Indigenous Court
- Williams Lake Indigenous Court
- Hazelton Indigenous Court
For more information about Indigenous courts, visit:
To learn how an Indigenous court can help you, visit:
The Declaration Act Action Plan and Action 3.12 (as related to this court):