There will be a new, Indigenous court in Williams Lake, Attorney General David Eby announced Monday.
“Our government is committed to addressing the over-representation of Indigenous peoples in the correctional system, which has its roots in systemic discrimination and the impacts of intergenerational trauma from residential schools,” Eby noted in a press release.
Eby said the Province is working with Indigenous communities to establish Indigenous courts throughout British Columbia to offer alternative sentencing options that honour traditional cultural practices, support rehabilitation and acknowledge the impact the person’s actions have had on others.
He added that he was pleased that Melissa Gillespie, provincial court chief judge, has increased access to these more culturally appropriate approaches in Williams Lake by approving the community’s proposal for an Indigenous court.
“It will support better outcomes for people in conflict with the law and help reduce the over-representation of Indigenous peoples in our jails. It also brings us one step closer to reaching one of our most important goals as a government – building a justice system that better respects and addresses the needs of Indigenous peoples.”
Chief Joe Alphonse, chief of the Tl’etinqox First Nation west of Williams Lake and Tsilhqot’in National Government Tribal Chair, welcomes a new approach in the courts.
“What we have isn’t working, so why not give it a try if it’s going to contribute to a safer community,” Alphonse said.
Alphonse feels there is “a big separation” between his community members and the current system, which he believes doesn’t support victims or offenders.
“There’s no connection back to the community, whether that’s our First Nation communities or the community of Williams Lake,” he said. “We have to continue to look at alternative ways that are more effective.”
Alphonse said his community has seen a reduction in gang-related activity at home and in nearby Williams Lake with a renewed and concerted effort to support positive activities for children on reserve.
“We shifted our focus to the kids that are doing well. We talk to them, encourage them and congratulate them when they are doing good things. We provide sports opportunities, and when they have to leave our community for school in town we sit down and talk to them about the how they might be pressured to join a gang and that we don’t want them to do that. Engaging them is the way to go.”
The Indigenous court will be up and running in Williams Lake in May.
Only offenders who are willing to admit guilt and are willing to make amends can be a part of the Indigenous court.