Wiikwemkoong explores theme of ‘moving forward’ at Justice Conference

Chief Justice of Ontario, the Honourable George R. Strathy, addresses the Justice Conference crowd as keynote speaker. photo by Robin Burridge

LITTLE CURRENT—Wiikwemkoong hosted the second annual Wiikwemkoong Justice Conference at the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre with the theme ‘moving forward.’

The two-day conference began with an opening smudge and prayer, followed by welcoming remarks from Wiikwemkoong Ogimaa Duke Peltier.

Emcee Bea Shawanda introduced the conference keynote speaker, the Honourable George R. Strathy, Chief Justice of Ontario.

Justice Strathy said he has a strong interest in visiting indigenous northern communities and was honoured to be invited to speak at the conference.

“I have been asked to be the keynote speaker, but I would like to look at myself as more of a keynote listener,” said Justice Strathy. “I am here to listen. I am especially looking forward to the grandmother (panel) session. My own grandmother played an important role in my life. Our justice system as a whole would be better if we listened to the advice of elders or grandparents.”

Chief Justice of Ontario, the Honourable George R. Strathy, addresses the Justice Conference crowd as keynote speaker.
photo by Robin Burridge

Justice Strathy said he learned about the Seven Grandfather Teachings through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report. “I can’t think of anything better to guide our justice system than the teachings,” said Justice Strathy.

“The theme of this conference is ‘moving forward’ and with the release of the TRC report  a year ago, we must move forward together,” he added. “The commissioner said that the TRC report is only the beginning of reconciliation.”

Justice Strathy said that it is important that judges like himself learn about traditional justice systems and indigenous teachings.

“We need to realize that the values we were raised with are not exclusive or absolute,” he continued. “As we move ahead with reconciliation, indigenous legal traditions will also benefit non-indigenous communities.”

“Indigenous communities have much to teach us, and I am here to gather, to learn,” said Justice Strathy.

Next up on the panel was an overview of the Wiikwemkoong Justice Program with Justice Coordinator Lora Mackie and elder Phyllis Williams.

Ms. Mackie spoke about the various elements that the Justice Program works on. She talked about ‘diversion,’ and how the sharing circles date back to the traditional way that First Nations peoples resolved issues. “People listen to someone’s story and work together to come up with a plan to help them,” said Ms. Mackie.

She said that they also do bail supervision, noting that many of the people they see don’t need to be on bail.

As well, the Wiikwemkoong Justice Program works on Gladue reports, pre-sentencing reports that provide the court with a background of an aboriginal defendant.

“We also do a lot of public education, such as a recent role play we did at the high school which taught the students about the legal system and allowed them to participate and ask questions,” said Ms. Mackie.

“When I was growing up, there were elders in my community to correct us, utilizing the Grandfather Teachings,” said Ms. Williams. “I have been taking part in the community justice circles because now that I am an elder I want to help correct the youth. We all need correction in our life—to know that someone cares about us and wants to be there for us when we are struggling.”

Later in the morning there was a judges’ panel, which included: Justice Patrick Boucher, regional senior justice, Ontario Court of Justice; and Justice Patricia C. Hennessy, Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

After a networking lunch, there was a presentation about Akwesasne Court, followed by the Wiikwemkoong Justice Grandmothers’ Panel including Doreen Trudeau-Peltier, Dorothy Fox and Muriel Assinewai.

Day two included a traditional teaching on the eight point star with Harvey Bell Jr., a presentation on Wiikwemkoong Governance and Estates, a presentation from Bea Shawanda and Niso Bradford on ‘Resilience’  and a presentation on the Toronto Aboriginal Youth Court and Toronto Gladue Court.

The conference concluded with a breakout session on ‘moving forward in our work and areas.’