Our focus in this issue is on justice and policing. Several stories this week raise a multitude of questions about the current models of criminal justice, punishment and rehabilitation in Eeyou Istchee and in First Nations across Canada.
There are many different models out there. At present, Waswanipi is making some interesting inroads into adopting their own “rule of law.” They have taken Canada’s Criminal Code and are modifying it to fit their community. It will be interesting to see the results of their efforts.
Some First Nations communities have a process that brings together the victims, their victimizers and their families, as well as Elders and trained professionals to look at appropriate sentences and restitution.
Some newly developed approaches deal with youth crime. There are many ways of looking at justice and peacekeeping in First Nations circles.
In the Cree communities we do not have models or methods of dealing with helping either a victim or a perpetrator. Rehabilitation is something we will have to deal with in light of certain judgments and sentences.
Police in our communities are often overworked and frustrated. There are over 1,000 case files and only 54 officers to handle them all.
In many Cree communities it is not surprising to see children younger than 10 wandering the streets after 2 a.m. Our police are not equipped to handle this; our cops are not our communities’ babysitters.
Someone has suggested that parents should start patrolling Cree streets and taking the kids home. While this method may seem drastic, cooperation with the police and band councils may be useful. This might go a long way to cutting down on some crime rates and the rising problem of gas sniffing by youth in some communities. It could even be organized and guided by the police to ensure there are no problems. A sort of roving neighborhood watch.
Another issue that people are reluctant to talk about publicly is white-collar crime, as much of it is committed by people in positions of influence. Most of it is kept quiet unless one of the Cree media picks it up. Even then it is difficult to document and report on.
There are stories of corporate credit cards being misused and covered up. People accepting “finder’s fees” – that’s when a company will pay off one of the people judging which firm should be awarded a contract. Often, insurance and housing funds are misused, abused or missing. Some people use band or Cree entity vehicles for personal use. This may not seem like much until you consider the amount of gas and current prices. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are lost in this way that could go towards creating a healthier community.
Many who do this do not even consider the consequences of their actions or think they are not doing anything wrong.
This is a far cry from the traditions of yesteryear when people watched out for each other and no one would consider stealing. As Crees we may have to examine the costs of keeping such actions in the dark. The silence is usually justified by the fact there are “sensitive negotiations” happening. A policy of “don’t rock the boat right now” seems to be the norm.
In the end though, we have to ask ourselves if our silence fosters an environment in which theft and abuse of Cree monies becomes acceptable.