4.0 Conclusion

The virtual panel explored how Indigenous justice, RJ or customary law approaches are used in two First Nations and one Inuit context. The panel helped to highlight that while RJ principles may have strong parallels to Indigenous legal principles and traditions, they are not the same thing. Several panellists highlighted the fundamental importance of community relationships in Indigenous justice approaches and the goal of meeting the needs of the collective rather than focusing primarily on the reparation of harm for an individual.

Canada’s adoption of the UN Declaration and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report provide support to Indigenous nations and groups that are asserting their rights to maintain and reclaim their own justice systems and legal traditions as an expression of the larger right of self-determination.

The revitalization of Indigenous legal traditions creates opportunities to expand the use of Indigenous, RJ or customary law approaches within the existing Canadian legal system. However, it is also important to be aware that RJ processes that address criminal offending in Canada exist within the Canadian CJS, an adversarial punitive system that has been used to control Indigenous peoples for centuries.

There is an urgent need to restore harmony back to individuals and communities using culturally specific, community-driven initiatives and programs, and customary law approaches. Indigenous justice principles exist to restore peace and equilibrium within a community, with the goal of community harmony and good order. The collective culture of Indigenous peoples and the use of consensus-based approaches when addressing harm are fundamental to Indigenous justice.

The development of Indigenous justice systems and legal traditions goes beyond the expansion of the use of Indigenous RJ principles and programs within the Canadian CJS. It is essential that RJ approaches be implemented with an understanding of underlying social issues, the impact of trauma, colonization, and systemic racism. They need to be flexible in order to adapt to specific cultural and community-based processes.

It is incumbent on legal professionals working in Canada’s criminal justice system, to better understand Indigenous perspectives, Canada’s colonial history, Indigenous ways of being, and the racism and discrimination embedded in Canada’s laws and systems, in order to move forward together.