testament to the ability to overcome

Elders’ good spirits testament to the ability to overcome prejudice and suffering

By William Doyle-Marshall

Judge Roger Cutler, a B.C. Provincial judge emphasized the importance of hearing the elders’ stories so no one forgets. He delivered a keynote address to the 42nd annual Elders gathering earlier this week (July 11, 2018) to a gathering of some 2,500 elders in Duncan. “Tell your stories of the past and the prejudices you have had to overcome. We cannot forget these atrocities. Just as there are holocaust deniers, there will be those we encounter who will deny our history and your suffering. We must soundly reject them. If we are to move forward, we cannot forget our past which is why we celebrate the fact you are still here. But at the same time we must recognize that we are not there, not where we need to be yet,” Judge Cutler continued.

The judge felt the theme for the gathering “We Are Still Here” was simple but thought-provoking. “I sometimes wonder whether you are clever because you are elders or you are elders because you are clever. I suspect it’s a bit of both,” he quipped.

Judge Cotler engages with audience in Duncan

Pausing to interpret the theme, Judge Cutler concluded on the elders’ behalf “We are still here and we are not going anywhere.” But upon further reflection he concluded “We are still here but we are not there yet. And by there I am referring to a place where everyone in our community including all Indigenous People are treated equally and with respect; a community where all participate in decision-making process on issues, impacting our communities and we all share in our prosperous future. To get there I believe you as elders play a critical role in our efforts to make this country more just and equitable place for all its inhabitants without regard for their race or their colour.”

He advised the gathering of elders that they have a significant role to play in helping “all of us” get there. The question they may now be asking Judge Cutler advised was “what critical role do you still have to play?” He was certain that overcoming the challenges they have been confronted with was a tremendous feat. “We must now take the next step and strive to achieve full participation, full acceptance and equal treatment of Indigenous peoples,” he advised.

Judge Cutler saw this move as the reconciliation journey which has commenced and he advised that the elders they have a role to play. “You have through your fight positioned future generations to move forward with courage and reason for optimism and you as elders, because of your cultural traditions are uniquely placed to positively impact the future generations and the reconciliation process that is now underway,” Judge Cutler continued.

Judge Cutler reminded the elders that the reconciliation process is happening because of the scars they bear and the battles they have won. He hope they will participate, if not directly but by encouraging the younger generations of Indigenous people to participate.

He has presided in the First Nations Court in Cowichan valley for several years and acknowledges one of the great joys of his life is working with elders to help others. The First Nations Court focuses on a healing plan for Indigenous offenders who are struggling. Cutler confessed his privilege of sitting around the table with the offender and several elders as well as several others in the community. “I learn something from the elders about myself every time we sit around that table. As elders you have so much valuable wisdom to pass on as you know the key is passing it on.”

The judge informed the gathering about the First Nations Court regarding what can be achieved with dialogue and engagement. The First Nations Court of Duncan that began little over five years ago was developed in consultation with local First Nations and the community at large. It is a sentencing court for persons who self-identify as Aboriginal and accept responsibility for their criminal behaviour and plead guilty to a criminal charge.

First Nations Court uses a holistic approach for healing to reduce criminal behaviour. The court’s focus is holistic, recognizing the unique circumstances of First Nations offenders within the framework of existing laws. Local First Nations communities are encouraged to contribute to the proceeding. The court provides support and healing to assist in rehabilitation and to reduce re-offending. It also seeks to acknowledge and repair the harm done to victims and the community in the past. One of the goals is to facilitate and include the application of First Nations culture, values and the wisdom of elders into the justice system and to provide support to those elders.

“We work towards building a strong bridge between Aboriginal and First Nations approach to justice and Canada’s Criminal Justice system by integrating a culturally and holistic transformative and restoratively healing approach to sentencing in a culturally-based setting. The court operates with input from First Nations Elders from the various local tribes. The court is constantly examining causes of an offender’s crime and criminal behaviour. Many Aboriginal people have a limited knowledge about their history of their peoples, their communities and in turn about how their own lives have been impacted.

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