The pungent scent of burning sweetgrass wafted through the open spaces of the TIB's gymnasium Thursday as band members, lawyers and a B.C. Supreme Court judge gathered to sentence Douglas Jensen, a band member, for drunken violence nearly two years ago.
The sentencing circle — the first of its kind held in Kamloops — opened with a traditional cleansing, which saw participants immerse themselves ceremoniously in the smoke, the curling blue wisps gently fanned over them by an eagle's wing.
Soon after, an eagle feather was passed from person to person, signifying them as the speaker, and allowing them to introduce themselves to the circle and the accused man. He sat beside his lawyer, next to a standard adorned with an eagle's head and feathers.
Circle keeper Linda Thomas reminded everyone the event was a formal B.C. Supreme Court sitting, complete with a recording system to collect the remarks for the official court record.
Beyond the recording system, however, the room bore little resemblance to a traditional courtroom. All in the circle were dressed casually, including Justice Ian Meiklem, who wore an open-collared blue shirt and dress pants in place of his traditional black robes. Defence lawyer Sheldon Tate sported a T-shirt, chinos and flip-flops. On the floor in the middle of the circle, made up of a large ring of folding chairs, was a brown bearskin rug.
The 35-year-old man was convicted in March of numerous offences, including mischief, dangerous driving and assaulting a peace officer while resisting arrest. He was arrested Feb. 14, 2011, after he drove a pickup truck into the house of a Tk'emlups Indian Band member. Jensen was drunk at the time, and drove the truck into the house after its owner pushed him away from the front door.
It was only the most recent trouble caused by Jensen's abuse of alcohol and drugs.
Two years ago, just 12 hours after his release from a federal penitentiary, Jensen got drunk, mistook an address, and terrified a stranger when she answered her door. He pleaded guilty to mischief.
Around the same time, Jensen was banished from Tk'emlups band lands amid allegations that he was a member of a criminal gang called Redd Alert. He denied those allegations. The man has 54 convictions, including several assaults.
Justice Meiklem told the circle he granted the request for the unusual sentencing option in recognition of its rehabilitative potential, noting the community input will provide the court with useful options for determining terms of the man's probation.
Before the circle started, prosecutor Iain Currie told The Daily News the that Crown and Jensen's lawyer reached an agreement — a joint submission for the court, in effect — regarding the appropriate sentence.
The lawyers agreed that the 19 months Jensen has already served in jail since his arrest is sufficient penalty for the offences, making this sentencing circle largely an exercise to determine the appropriate conditions for Jensen's probation.
Jensen did not receive preferential treatment, Currie noted, only "different treatment."
Regardless, it was clear the sentencing circle meant something to the TIB as well as Jensen, who sat solemnly throughout, nodding contritely as participants spoke.
Chief Shane Gottfriedson told Jensen the general public might not like the idea of aboriginal sentence circles, but "that is them."
"The justice system is working with us so we can control our own justice in our own community," Gottfriedson said.
The chief then spoke frankly to Jensen, telling him the time has come for him to change his life and become a productive member of his community. Gottfriedson told the man his actions have hurt many people.
"Your past has not been something you are very proud about, but it's something that can change. You are young enough, you are smart enough, to know right from wrong. If you continue down the path of crime and hurting people, and the impact it has on our community you won't have much in life."
But Gottfriedson also told Jensen he is proud of him for standing up to face his community, and told him there are many services available to help him.
"You are given every opportunity to succeed. You want to go to school? The band will pay for your education. There are a lot of things we do that our counsel talks about, it's about creating a bright future so our people can be proud."
When given the eagle feather, Jensen told the group he's had a long time to think about what he's done.
"I apologize to all the people I have hurt in this conviction," he said. "I'm sorry for what I've done. I know it was wrong what I've done. I don't remember half the stuff I did that night . . . but I accept it was my fault.
"I accept I did wrong that night. I drowned my sorrows in the bottle, and I'm sorry it came to this. I really am sorry for what I've done."
Late in the day, Justice Meiklem sentenced Jensen to time served, and imposed 22 months of probation. Terms of the court order will require the man to enter into a four-year social contract with the TIB ensuring he performs community service work and seeks counseling for his addictions. As well, he was banned from driving for two years, and ordered to pay $5,000 restitution to cover the costs of the damage to the house.