Rhaea Bailey is the manager of our Indigenous Services department. Earlier this spring she visited the Cknúcwentn First Nations Court in Kamloops.
When I walked through the doors of Cknúcwentn I was greeted with the sweet scent of sage. An Elder was smudging anyone who was interested and I took advantage — it creates a feeling of calm and strength within me. Cknúcwentn (Can-nuck-when-tin) is a Secwepemc (Shuswap) word that means the place where help is given. It’s the perfect name for a First Nations court.
First Nations courts are sentencing courts. Cknúcwentn was born out of the desire of judges to be able to address the root causes of why people were offending. If you choose to go to a First Nations court you have to plead guilty. The judge, Crown counsel, Elders, and family work with the accused and their lawyer to create a healing plan — a plan to address the root causes of the crime and help the accused, the community, and the victim move on.
What I witnessed over the course of the day was restorative justice truly at work. Both the accused and the community had a voice in the courtroom. In fact, the accused was called upon to answer difficult questions and account for their actions, as well as set out their hopes for the future. It was an environment where the accused was given an opportunity to receive advice, which not only included words of warning, but also words of love and encouragement.
In a First Nations Court, people are humanized and given an opportunity to do better. I observed firsthand the effectiveness of the court when I watched a blanket ceremony at the end of the day. Two people had turned their lives around and were acknowledged by the whole court when the judge, lawyers, and Elders surrounded the two in a circle and wrapped a beautiful blanket around them while congratulating them on the successful completion of their sentence and healing plans.
The pride and accomplishment that radiated from each person touched me, and, at times, I couldn’t hold back my tears.
I believe the success of this court is rooted in its cultural approach and the great people involved, as well as the requirement that the accused return each month to report on their progress.
First Nations Courts are available in Kamloops, North Vancouver, New Westminster and Duncan. You can learn more on the Aboriginal Law in BC website.