When the newly-approved Indigenous Court for Williams Lake gets underway next spring offenders will need to admit their guilt, be ready to make amends and request their case being heard in that court.
“They have to be ready to move on with their healing journey,” said Samantha Dick, the executive director of Punky Lake Camp Wilderness Society (PLCWS), the lead organization that put together the proposal for the new court. “In my opinion, it’s a lot more in depth than the traditional court. I feel like anyone who goes through this process is very brave.”
Dick said she is happy to see the Indigenous Court finally proceeding for the Williams Lake area.
“It’s been a long time coming,” she added.
Once a client decides to go that route they discuss it with a lawyer and from there let the judge know they would like to go through Indigenous Court and then it will be determined if they fit the criteria.
“For now, we have to walk before we run, so we are going to be dealing with smaller offences, things that aren’t huge cases and we’ll progress as the court continues,” Dick said.
In spearheading the proposal for the court, PLCWS had help from Crown Counsel Sabena Thompson and Dave Dickson, manager of community safety to put together a planning committee made up of RCMP, Probation Services, a representative from each First Nation, Esk’et Chief Fred Robbins, Dog Canoe Creek Chief Patrick Harry, and elders Irvine Johnson and Charlotte Gilbert.
They met with Provincial Court Chief Judge Melissa Gillespie in June to go over the proposal and then sent it off in September.
“It was a pretty well-rounded group,” Dick said. “We wanted to ensure everything runs smoothly on the justice end of things to make sure we Indigenize the process.”
Indigenizing the court, she explained, will see elders in the court able to do smudging, especially if heavy topics are going to be discussed.
“If a client is very emotional that day the elders may ask if they want to get brushed with cedar brushes or do a smudge. We want to make sure that when the clients graduate from the program and they’ve completed their healing plans that we can do a blanketing ceremony with them.”
Including all the First Nations communities has been an important aspect as well, she noted.
“Williams Lake is a very unique place. We have 13 First Nations communities, four different nations when you include the Métis. We wanted to make sure every culture is represented in the court.”
The grand opening of the Native Court will take place some time in April and the first sittings should begin in May.
A judge has yet to be appointed and at this point it looks like sessions will be held in a regular court room that will have room for the elders to sit at a table with the judge.
“The elders and the judge will discuss healing plans with clients and it will go around the table so everyone will have input. When the client comes back if there is somethings they haven’t completed, they will be questioned by the elders. In other Indigenous courts the elders make sure the clients are accountable and taking healing plans seriously.”
The elders will bring art work into the court room as well as blankets to put over the bar.
Dick said PLWCS will provide the Indigenous Elders Court Navigator who will work with the elders panel and go over all the files of the clients with the judge.
“Our role is to ensure everything runs smoothly so if we do hit some road bumps we can say, ‘this isn’t working, we need to switch something,’ if it is on the healing end of things or resources. We can take it back to the planning committee and discuss it again.”
Ten elders were picked last week to sit on the panel for the new court who have been doing training and have observed proceedings in either Kamloops, Prince George or Merritt at existing Indigenous courts.
Another group of elders will be selected in January 2020.
“We will continue to have training for elders and ensure we have a well-rounded group on the panel. They not only learn about the court processes to understand everything that has to do with that aspect of things, but we also wanted to ensure they are educated about the problems that are happening here in Williams Lake, with drugs, alcohol and addictions and where they can find resources for themselves if they get triggered.”
A member of Tl’etinqox First Nation, Dick has worked with PLCWS for nine and a half years. She became the interim executive director a year ago and executive director in July of this year.
“I feel like this is a great step forward. I tell people who are unsure about the process, they should come into a sitting and see how it actually works.”