Cknucwentn a first step

The first day in Kamloops of the Cknucwentn (Kamloops) First Nations court began on March 4. It was a special day in an ordinary courtroom.

The sitting in front of provincial court judge Stella Frame -one of two judges who is specially assigned to the court -began with a ceremonial blessing and smudge from a TIB member.

But it wasn't the room or the ceremony that was special on the first day, it was a process that appears foreign to anyone who spends time at the courthouse.

Most notably, Frame vacated the elevated bench at the front of the courtroom to sit below at a rectangular table. With her, and at the same level, were lawyers, court workers and, in turn, the accused persons.

Most uniquely, also at the table were a number of First Nations elders, both from on- and off-reserve. Pioneered in New Westminster, First Nations courts are a form of restorative justice -a bid to move one step away from the traditional courtroom given to us by English law. Informality is the hallmark of the proceeding, which is scheduled to sit once a month.

Any person who identifies themselves with First Nations heritage is eligible to be sentenced in the court.

As one of the first hearings in the new court demonstrated, things work differently. A young man with a serious criminal record, who was in custody at the time, sat nearby his aunt and grandmother.

Elders told him in straight-talking terms his mistakes and future if he does not change. They also served as a resource about counselling available in this province.

He will be back in front of the same elders with a "healing plan" that will dictate his future - and the court will back it up.

The First Nations court sat here for the first time only weeks before Howard Sapers, the federal correctional investigator, released a damning report showing aboriginal people account for 23 per cent of offenders in federal jails.

Outside of jail, aboriginals represent four per cent of the population.

The Cknucwentn court is a small step in what must be a much larger social effort - beginning with parenting and education - needed to change lives and alter this statistic.

© Copyright 2018 Kamloops Daily News

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