B.C’s seventh Indigenous Court is now open in Williams Lake.
The specialized court, which provides sentencing for Indigenous individuals who accept responsibility for their actions through a restorative and holistic system of justice focused on healing and balance for the accused, opened Friday, Dec. 11.
Little Chiefs Primary School students led an opening song and prayer in Friday’s virtual soft opening of the court, housed in the Elks Hall, prior to speeches from local and provincial dignitaries.
Williams Lake First Nation Chief Willie Sellars said the legacy of the project and work put into its creation by the Yeqox Nilin Justice Society — a Williams Lake-based organization aimed at strengthening traditional approaches to justice and peacemaking — will be celebrated for many years to come.
Society executive director Samantha-Jo Dick called it a historic day celebrating a win for the four Nations surrounding the Williams Lake area, including the Tsilhqot’in, Northern Secwepemc, Southern Dakelh and Métis.
“From this point forward, we will have a space to incorporate our own traditional practices and healing,” Dick said after thanking everyone for helping to make the court become a reality, including Dave Dickson, Rod Hawkins and Jim World who initially started the groundwork.
“In the past 10 years that I’ve worked in our justice system, I’ve watched people succeed, but I’ve also watched them fail,” she said.
“My heart goes out to those who are still struggling with their past traumas, to those who are stuck in a revolving door of the justice system.”
Overrepresentation of Indigenous people in B.C’s criminal justice system is a product of inter-generational trauma, systemic discrimination, and communities’ challenges said Attorney General David Eby.
“That is is why it’s so vital to have elders participating in this process and ensuring that we’re talking about restorative justice, and addressing the roots of why the person is involved with the criminal justice system rather than ignoring those roots and just hoping things will get better on there own,” Eby said.
Elders who have completed training for Williams Lake Indigenous Court include Mary Alphonse, Sandra Dickson, Irvine Johnson, Charlotte Gilbert, Phyllis Rosette, Doreen Harry, Alex Norquay, Wayne Lucier and Joan Gentles.
All of the elders participated in traditional blanketing ceremonies last week to represent the work that they are doing and will do in the future.
“This court will focus on building supportive relationships with Indigenous leaders, elders and the community to bring Indigenous beliefs, culture and traditions in developing healing plans to support Indigenous people who come to the courts,” said Chief Provincial Court Judge Melissa Gillespie.
Friday’s virtual opening will be followed by the court’s first sitting in which all three accused —David Gibbons, Kylene Johnny and Derrick O’Connor have entered guilty pleas.
An Indigenous Court will open in 2021 in Hazelton.