Saturday, 27 August 2011

First Nations Court of BC

I had the opportunity to spend a day with friends, at First Nations Court of BC. It was my second day attending, and because it was my own friend's life story under examination, it was a fully involving few hours. Judge Marion does an excellent job, of receiving each speaker exactly where they are at, maintaining effective boundaries so that a respectful meeting place within which justice might be served, and be seen to be served, can exist. 

Judge Marion Buller Bennett, photo by Don MacKinnon

 The full scope of the emotional processing of state history is vividly painted, and respected, through the course of a day, each day the First Nations Court of BC sits. The main cases heard that day both involved Manitoba ex-patriates/refugees, and one of the accused said, "You know about Manitoba, right?" 

Indeed.

Standing outside in Begbie Square, later, one of the ladies mentioned Begbie and the Chilcotin chiefs, and we all turned to gaze upon his statue. Someone said it was ironic that the FN Court should meet just here, but to my mind, it is less irony than reparation: where justice was in the past not served, we will remember, and we will occupy the space, honouring the past by existing and conducting ourselves honourably in the present day. 

"a hanging cobweb" Judge Begbie Statue, photo by waterboard

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One of the things I most cherish about being a writer, is that I can articulate my sense of a person, how things have developed and what is, in the best sense of the word, just, in this specific situation. To have a voice within the formal structure of the mechanics of state is a powerful thing: writing letters on behalf of my loved ones is something that I can, and do, do. I don't have to have a degree in English literature, I don't have to study law, I only have to say what I see, what I know, and avoid inflammatory statements.

Learning to recognize what sorts of information bring the reader closer, and what sorts of information send the reader or listener off into emotion and thoughts that may interfere with their ability to receive the information I would like them to have: that is the great skill of functional communications, whether oral or written.

Writing a letter in support of a person or cause you know well, is not necessarily the time to address all ongoing grudges against the state. Save it for the placard, the op-ed, the diary, the polemical soliloquy.  Put it in a poem, a riff, a rant, a hiphop exegesis. In a court-related or character reference scenario, the language of persuasion is a reflection of self-confident witnessing, allowing facts and perspective to speak for themselves, and any divergence into self-flagellation or attack on the letter's intended recipient should be stripped away.

In recent years, I have also written a number of letters to politicians, and occasionally I follow my own advice, above, but often as not, I let 'er rip, and use over-the-top, high energy imagery that on an ordinary day, would make my own hair stand on end. I suppose, in situations like this, the thought is, to put a forceful foot in the door, to push back, to communicate in a high energy way what the politicos' advisers have apparently not communicated to them-- in this sense it is an application of qi that is carried by the words as vehicle.  

The most important message here is the energetic message, and the words may seek to orient the recipient, and carry the charge, while the metaphors do the work of recreating my perspective in a very different sort of person's mind. Editing that kind of letter does not mean removing every inflammatory thing, only, being aware of the sequencing of the information, so that the recipients read all the way to the end, and are sent off to think and feel after all the important things have been said, at the end, and not before. 

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First Nations Court of British Columbia

Walking the healing path.

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In mid-April [1864], 14 Tsilhqot'in are hired as packers and set up camp near the road builders; they are disappointed that food is not shared as is Tsilhqot'in custom...

Some time later, a few young Tsilhqot'in girls came to the camp of the road builders to ask for food; instead of offering food, they were given the option to starve or become prostitutes; Brewster, Clark and Nieuman take advantage and rape the girls, including Lhastassine's daughter. Hearing of the rape and threat of disease, the small group of Tsilhqot'in begins orchestrating a plan to wipe out all colonial invaders from the territory.
from The Tsilhqot'in War, 1864
By Russell Samuel Myers Ross, from Yunesit'in and Xeni.


To prevent a blood bath, Chief Klatsassin (Tsilhqot’in War Chief) and his men surrendered with the clear understanding that they would be treated as prisoners of war. ... Contrary to British law, the men were tried as common criminals.

This error in law was noted by Judge Matthew Baillie Begbie who thought it was distasteful to hang these men. However, in his own words:
The blood of 21 whites calls for retribution.
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Video online, including Judge Marion Buller Bennett speaking:
Aboriginal Justice In Our Times
The Honourable Judge Marion Buller Bennett

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The Scow Institute:
Aboriginal Courts in Canada 
(2008)

The paper looks at the jurisdiction of Aboriginal Courts, existing Aboriginal Courts and related issues.

 
[Fact sheet] [Research paper]



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