Chevi Rabbit For Ponoka News
Samson Cree Nation (SCN) is in the early stages of creating restorative justice in the community called “Pamihowin.”
Katherine Swampy, SCN councillor and member of the Pamihowin Standing Committee (PSC) explains, “Pamihowin is the Plains Cree word for restorative justice.”
“Historically Indigenous people have had their own system and whenever it came to justice it was about how to fix the situation. We had ways of identifying how to restore what was done wrong,” said Swampy.
“This is an amazing step. Indigenous people have practiced their own justice system for tens of thousands of years. And that over the last few decades due to colonialism and other oppressive policies we haven’t been able to continue.”
SCN Chief Vernon Saddleback says restorative justice is an initiative he wanted to bring into the community.
“It gives us a little control over the adjudication,” he said, adding restorative justice is about the over-incarceration of Indigenous people in jails.
“It’s about making a justice issue a wellness issue … It’s to bring in support for Indigenous families who are already suffering. It’s also a process of accountability and bringing accountability into people’s lives,” said Saddleback.
“There are other Indigenous Nations that have successfully set up their restorative justice processes and they are finding great success, including an extremely low re-offending rate compared to that of the provincial system,” said Laurie Buffalo, committee member of the PSC.
At this time, SCN has hosted restorative justice sessions led by other Indigenous restorative justice teams. Those sessions were the result of the offender advocating for their individual case or situation to be adjudicated with community involvement, says Buffalo.
“The Nehiyaw (Indigenous) worldview and way of life, the traditional restorative justice process is a system of responsibility and accountability,” she said.
”Responsibility not only for the actions committed, but of the actions required to rebuild the system of trust.
“The traditional process of taking responsibility was not to pick out another for punishment, it was an opportunity to work together on the underlying, often unacknowledged or un-addressed issues, that led to the breakdown or violation experienced. Something somewhere led to a breakdown and that is an opportunity to build back better,” said Buffalo.
“Samson Cree Nation has always held the ultimate goal of having its own courthouse so that our community, through our natural, ceremonial and customary laws and language, is able to adjudicate its own proceedings.”
Pamihowin consists of the standing committee and SCN programs like Nipisihkopahk Wellness, Samson Social Development, the Maskwacis Mobile Mental Health team, community Elders, Indigenous legal practitioners (judges, crown prosecutors and defence lawyers) and restorative justice circle facilitators.