First Nations peoples, in what is now British Columbia have, since time immemorial, exercised self-determination by building and maintaining flourishing societies and Nations rooted in their stewardship and title to their lands and territories. This included sophisticated governance and justice systems that maintained social order as well as the safety and holistic well-being of their citizens.
Colonialism has evolved a set of processes, mechanisms, and structures designed to dispossess First Nations of their self-determination and territories. This involved legislation, policy and systems that undermined First Nations governance and justice systems and forcibly interrupted Indigenous social and familial fabric. This also involved systematically disempowering individuals from decision-making about their lives, including through various means such as residential schools, Indian hospitals, child welfare and the criminal justice system. Legislation, policy, and institutions are founded upon these realities of colonialism, the results of which are seen in the available data about Indigenous peoples and the justice system.
Indigenous peoples are making up a growing proportion of those engaged in correctional services or who are incarcerated. In 2016/2017, Indigenous adults accounted for 28% of admissions to provincial/territorial correctional services and 27% for federal correctional services, while representing 4.1% of the Canadian adult population. This is an increase from 21% and 19% respectively, one decade ago. Making up 8% of the youth population in Canada, Indigenous youth comprised 50% of custody admissions and 42% of community admissions. In BC, Indigenous girls outnumber non-Indigenous girls in custody.
First Nations have shown strong leadership in tackling these grim realities, uprooting these injustices and restoring balance through the exercise of their rights.
The BC First Nations Justice Strategy charts a path for change with 42 actions along two paths: 1) reform of the current justice system; and, 2) restoration of First Nation legal traditions and structures.
Collective vision for the BC First Nations Justice Strategy
Research and community engagement with BC First Nations and justice system partners culminated in this 2019 vision for the Justice Strategy:
Transforming the relationship of First Nations with the criminal justice system through Nation to Nation partnerships, with a goal of advancing First Nations’ self-determination and self-governance through the application of First Nation laws, traditions, and jurisdictions, making changes to the existing system and its administration, and building capacity for Nations to increase holistic wellness, safety and security for their communities.– BC First Nations Justice Summit participants, 2019