First Nations court opens in Merritt

By on October 11, 2017
Dignitaries, flanked by RCMP officers, enter the Shulus Arbour on Oct. 10. (Cole Wagner/Herald).
B.C.’s chief justice hailed the opening of First Nations court as “a new way” to approach criminal justice in the Nicola Valley.

Provincial judges and politicians celebrated alongside First Nations leaders and elders in the Shulus Arbour Tuesday afternoon at a gathering to mark the opening of the Nicola Valley Indigenous Court.

First Nations courts — which currently operate in four other cities in British Columbia — are sentencing courts which consider the perspective of indigenous elders when handing out sentences.

A sentence from a First Nations court might also include a healing plan specific to the individual and the community they come from, based on a restorative approach to justice.

The courts are aimed at reducing the overrepresentation of First Nations people in the criminal justice system, said Upper Nicola Band Chief Harvey McLeod at the opening ceremony on Tuesday.

Kira Meldrun performs a traditional dance at the ceremonial opening of the Nicola Valley Indigenous Court. (Cole Wagner/Herald).

B.C.’s Attorney General David Eby attended the ceremony, saying it was a “really important day for the community,” during his remarks to the audience.

“This is really important work that you’re going to see make an impact and a change in your community over your entire life,” said Eby, addressing students from the Lower Nicola Band School.

Sitting once per month at the Merritt Courthouse, the Nicola Valley Indigenous Court will feature a different aesthetic look than traditional courtrooms, where the judge presides physically over the court.

“This court is different — everybody is equal in sitting around that table, and has the right to contribute and participate,” said Provincial Court Chief Judge Thomas Crabtree.

Attorney General David Eby hailed the creation of the court in the Nicola Valley as a major accomplishment. (Cole Wagner/Herald).

“I think that the presence of the elders, the presence of the community in the courtroom is going to make a big difference. Because when someone tells me ‘Hey, you’re doing the wrong thing, you need to straighten up and fly right,’ it means a lot if it comes from someone in my community,” said Eby.

The first proceedings for the Nicola Valley Indigenous Court are scheduled for Oct. 25.

Lower Nicola Band Chief Aaron Sam told the Herald he thinks the indigenous court is a positive step that makes offenders accountable to their own communities.

“It’s something that’s been in the works [here] for at least a couple years,” said Sam. “It’s a real opportunity for our community members and different First Nations communities to be involved in the justice system.”

The hope is that this new court will reduce recidivism, Merritt First Nations police officer Const. Rose Grant told the Herald.

“There’s a healing plan involved [in this] to help figure out the root cause of the issue so [offenders] can work on themselves,” said Grant.

McLeod told the Herald their elders will play a key role in the success of the indigenous court.

“The elders will be the ones to guide, support, advise and help them make the changes that they have to make in  their lives,” said McLeod.


This story was updated at 4:34 p.m. (Oct. 10) to include comments from RCMP Const. Rose Grant, Upper Nicola Cheif Harvey McLeod and Lower Nicola Chief Aaron Sam.

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