MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee was invited to meet with the judges from the Supreme Court of Canada on Friday, September 27. The Supreme Court made its first trip outside of Ottawa to hear several cases in Winnipeg, to meet with students, and to take part in various ceremonies (one of which is pictured above) for the blessing and introduction of eagle feathers into the Manitoba court system.

Grand Chief Settee shared his thoughts reflecting on his visit with the highest court in Canada:

Why it’s important to have a visit from the Supreme Court

Today was a day of historic significance when the Supreme Court of Canada came and hosted Indigenous people and tried to probably understand the situations that we face in Indigenous communities when it comes to justice. They are wanting to hear from us. I think that’s important that they hear from us.

Throughout 150 years of Canadian history and the judicial system, after 150 years of being confronted with that system, it appears—and I think it is slowly become apparent to them—that system is not working for our people.

They need to talk to us about how that system can be changed and better utilized for our people because that system has its origins in British systems that were borrowing ideas from different kinds of ideals. They came and they just enforced it upon us.

Our people have been doing justice prior to European contact with our own laws, with our own restorative justice systems and those have helped us, sustained us for millenniums and millenniums before the Europeans came here.

The question I would ask is, “Why are we not allowed to use those systems that sustained our people since time out of mind?”

So those are the questions they need to answer. It appears that their system is not working, their system has failed. The high representation of Indigenous people in jails is indicative of a system that is not helping and also it is not a system that rehabilitates anyone. It is a system that actually makes people worse and they fund that. They perpetuate an idea that is not working.

The importance of reclaiming restorative justice practices

The Indigenous peoples have a restorative justice system that has worked. It rehabilitates and it helps people.

Why can’t we use that? That’s the question they (the Supreme Court) need to answer that question. Why can’t we use that? Because it’s based on a lot of ancient laws and cultural teachings that creates balance in our societies and our communities.

Right now, there is a lot of imbalance and we need to get back to our old justice systems to heal our people where there is a rehabilitation process.

People that may do a lot of things to hurt others or hurt themselves, they can find their way through that system, they can find a better way of dealing with their issues and they can grow up and be productive members of society, having been through our systems. So those are things they need to hear.

The Constitution and Treaties

In the Constitution, Section 35(1), it says that the Aboriginal and Treaty rights of our people are affirmed, they are recognized. But when it comes to the Treaties, do our Treaties stand a chance in their courts? They should be able to be addressed in that system in a way that is fair, in a way that is just.

Those are the discussions that I was hoping to have with them (the Supreme Court judges), but we did not have the opportunity. The Constitution and the patriation of the Constitution promised hope, when they said that the rights are entrenched in the Constitution. Since that time, we have struggled to try to get our rights recognized in that system, under the Constitution of Canada.

It is the Supreme Court of Canada that deals with these issues and they have not done a good job, they have not done a good job. Those are the discussions that they need to have with us continually. It’s not just one visit, after 150 years of trying to figure us out, it’s not going to take one visit to understand who we are. They need to visit us and they need to learn our ways. I think they should learn our ways.