Seeking a new system of peacemaking

Treaty 2 First Nations developing alternative system of law


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A four-year project is underway to replace the existing criminal-justice system for 11 Manitoba First Nations.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/12/2021 (294 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A four-year project is underway to replace the existing criminal-justice system for 11 Manitoba First Nations.

Communities in Treaty 2 territory are part of an effort to create an alternative system of law based on Anishinaabe traditions.

It’s the most comprehensive undertaking of its kind in Canada and aims to go beyond restorative justice programs that have already been established in some First Nations communities, said Chantell Barker, who is working on developing the project for the Treaty 2 government. It’s based on the Seven Circles teachings and focuses on a peacemaking tradition rather than Western law and order. It involves creating a new legal framework, court tribunal system and crime-prevention programs that are entirely centred on traditional healing.

Chantell Barker is part of the Treaty 2 government's project to establish an alternative to the criminal-justice system based on Anishinaabe traditions. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

The time is now for a broader Indigenous peacekeeping system, said Barker, a former provincial probation officer who did advocacy work for other Indigenous-led organizations before being hired by the Treaty 2 government last December.

“This is what I always wanted to do. Instead of just advocating for system change, (we) want to create a new system,” she said.

Thirty years after the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry, its recommendations have languished, and countless recommendations and calls to action have not appeared to improve the criminal justice system’s treatment of Indigenous offenders, Barker said.

“The overrepresentation of Indigenous people in correctional centres is not improving,” Barker said. Neither is the relationship between police and Indigenous communities, she added, something that’s only been made clearer when discriminatory incidents are captured on video and shared on social media.

“We need a system that’s holistic. We need to have our own court system, our own peacekeeping, also known as policing; something that’s going to really support what we’re trying to do with restorative peacemaking,” she said.

The project would need about $17 million to get off the ground, and no federal funding agreements have been secured. That’s the next step, Barker said. Treaty 2 chiefs met with federal justice Minister David Lametti earlier this month and are working on developing an agreement-in-principle with the federal government, she said.

On Nov. 18, Treaty 2 chiefs passed a resolution on the peacemaking framework, called the Peacemaking Onankonehkawin, from which other laws could flow. Public consultations with band members are expected to follow.

The idea is that the peacemaking system would function, at least initially, in a way that’s similar to restorative justice programs — there would be no trials; those accused of wrongdoing would have to accept responsibility for their actions in order to participate. An Indigenous justice agreement has been passed in Yukon, and First Nations in other parts of Canada have been working on similar self-governed justice systems. Barker’s research has examined parts of the Navajo Nation’s legal system in the U.S. to see if a similar approach could be adopted here.

Treaty 2 was signed 150 years ago, and its territory stretches from Dauphin River to Skownan, through central Manitoba and down to its southwestern border.

For the past year, Barker said she’s been working on the first phase of the project, describing it as “the year of lawmaking.” She acknowledges the project requires widespread recognition of the treaty, and that in the past, resolutions and laws passed by First Nations leadership have not been respected by provincial and federal governments. But she said Treaty 2 nations are not waiting around. They’re trying to make progress now even in the absence of federal funding.

“Our attitude with Treaty 2 is that we’re just going to do it. We’re just going to move forward,” she said. “Part of the problem with our laws not being recognized is that we still have to use the provincial court system… so we’re going to create our own laws and our own courts and tribunals.”

Katie May

Katie May

Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.


Updated on Tuesday, December 14, 2021 2:21 PM CST: changes "alternate" to "alternative"

Updated on Thursday, December 16, 2021 11:25 AM CST: Updates cutline

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