WAGMATCOOK: It was an eventful National Indigenous People’s Day last Thursday.
Nova Scotia’s first Aboriginal Wellness and Gladue Court was officially opened and celebrated in Wagmatcook First Nation on June 21.
“This new court represents a historic step forward in supporting Indigenous justice in this province,” said Premier Stephen McNeil, and who is also Minister of Aboriginal Affairs. “The Wagmatcook court shows what can be achieved when we collaborate and listen to each other.”
Gladue courts serve aboriginal people who have matters before the court. They differ from traditional courts in that they consider broader issues facing aboriginal people, such as the intergenerational trauma of residential schools. Gladue courts get their name from a 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision that highlighted concerns about the discrimination against and over-representation of aboriginal people in the justice system.
A wellness court attempts to identify and address the root cause of the offending behaviour and develop a recovery support plan that links people to services. The court in Wagmatcook will allow Indigenous offenders to accept responsibility for their actions, which is more consistent with aboriginal culture.
Similar wellness courts exist in Port Hawkesbury and Amherst.
The Wagmatcook Court will also see provincial and Supreme Court sittings. It will serve residents of Wagmatcook, Waycobah, and Victoria County.
“It is the beginning of a new justice experience journey for our people identified in the Marshall Inquiry and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action,” said Chief Norman Bernard, Wagmatcook First Nation. “It is a proud day for Mi’kmaw people.”
The Wagmatcook Court has a circular design that is representative of aboriginal healing circles and reflects a unique approach to justice. The court is also the first superior court in Canada to hold regular sittings in a First Nations community. Wagmatcook joins Eskasoni to become the second First Nation community to offer court services on reserve.
“Today, we as Mi’kmaq are making history with the opening of this court which happens to be one of a kind, here in Canada,” said Waycobah Chief Rod Googoo. “It’s a historic day, not only for the Mi’kmaq, but for all the aboriginal people across Canada. And we are a very proud community, here in We’koqma’q to have made partnership with Wagmatcook on this unique court.”
The celebration included a special repatriation ceremony in which an eagle feather, one of the most sacred and spiritual symbols in First Nations culture, was presented to Judge Laurie Halfpenny MacQuarrie, who presides over the provincial court in Wagmatcook. The eagle feather was presented by the family of Donald Marshall Jr. and the counsel who represented him in his battle to overturn his wrongful murder conviction.
“In addition to addressing Indigenous justice in a manner befitting the Mi’kmaw culture, the court highlights the successes that can come from collaboration between neighbours,” said Larry Dauphinee, deputy warden, Victoria County. “We are pleased the first Gladue Court in Nova Scotia is located here, in the local community.”
Partners in the project include the provincial court of Nova Scotia Judiciary, Wagmatcook and Waycobah First Nations, the Mi’kmaq Legal Support Network, Nova Scotia Legal Aid, the Public Prosecution Service, Public Prosecution Services Canada, Victoria County, RCMP and the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society.
Also on June 21 in Wagmatcook, Zach Churchill, Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development, joined members of Mi’Kmaw Kina’matnewey communities for a ceremony where they signed the most recent Mi’kmaq Education Agreement.
The agreement helps guide public school programs and services to support Mi’kmaw students who are members of the Mi’Kmaw Kina’matnewey communities and attend public school. It also ensures there are opportunities for Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey to participate in educational decisions that impact Nova Scotia’s education system.
“Mi’kmaq Kina’matnewey has continuously worked to enhance education and close the achievement gap that exists for Mi’kmaw students in the public school system,” said Churchill. “We look forward to continuing to collaborate on projects that will enhance the education experience of all students.”
The agreement provides guidelines for improved information sharing between the Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey communities on-reserve education system and the public school system to help smooth the transition for students from one educational system to the other.
“It is perfect that we are having this signing on National Indigenous Peoples day, in a Mi’kmaw community,” said Chief Leroy Denny, chairman of the Board of Directors for Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey.
Under this agreement, we will continue to control our own education for our communities, remain focused on revitalizing our language and work towards bringing our students to the next level.”
Nova Scotia is the first jurisdiction in Canada to foster a provincial structure that supports Mi’kmaw leadership leading Mi’kmaw education.