Exploring Indigenous Justice Systems in Canada and Around the World

Key Themes

While the makeup of the panelists, conference attendees and topics for dialogue were diverse, four common themes emerged over the two days.

  1. The need to respect Indigenous approaches to justice
    • Conference experts reaffirmed that Indigenous approaches to justice are different from mainstream approaches. They are rooted in the Indigenous connection to the land, the animals, the water and the wisdom that comes from the natural world. This wisdom was referred to as traditional law, natural law, and spiritual law.
    • Knowledge and understanding of these laws (traditional, natural and spiritual) are passed on through Indigenous Creation Stories and songs.
    • It is through these stories and songs (rooted in the land, animals and water) that Indigenous values, morals, and ethics emerge. These include things like the seven grandfather teachings and how to live respectfully off the land.
    • Indigenous laws stem from all of the above and as such are holistic in nature, taking into account the individual, family, community, and nation.
  2. The importance of redefining relationships
    • According to the TRC: “Reconciliation is about establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in this country...Footnote 1. Conference experts echoed this message, stating that re-defining relationships and power imbalances was key.
    • With respect to justice systems, government to government relationships were the focus. This includes both Indigenous to non-Indigenous, as well as Indigenous to Indigenous.
    • For these relationships to work, the self-determination of Indigenous communities must be recognized, valued and upheld. This includes both political and cultural sovereignty.
  3. Rethinking the past
    • The TRC’s definition of reconciliation continues: “…in order for [respectful relationships] to happen, there has to be an awareness of the past, an acknowledgement of the harm that has been inflicted, atonement for the causes, and action to change behaviour.Footnote 2 This requires Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians alike to rethink their understanding of Canadian history.
    • There are gaps in Canada’s current education system on language, Indigenous ways of being, Indigenous justice systems, and the history of relationships between government and Indigenous people in Canada from an Indigenous lens.
    • This rethinking must be done:
      1. Through Indigenous languages. It is through the ancient oral traditions and songs of Indigenous peoples that education through an Indigenous lens will occur.
      2. By Elders and Indigenous knowledge keepers.
      3. In universities and law schools.
      4. Between Indigenous communities. Beyond academia, Indigenous communities can share knowledge between each other, building capacity along the way.
  4. The need for equitable resourcing
    • Like all justice systems, Indigenous justice systems also require resources to be successful. This includes human resources as well as financial resources.
    • Inequitable resources remain the main issue for Indigenous communities. Indigenous communities wishing to prioritize justice issues have no choice but to redirect funds from their scant existing resources.

These four themes are interconnected, each reliant upon the other for success. The relevant themes are identified throughout the report using labels: