Fort William Councillor Michele Solomon and Nokiiwin Tribal Council executive director Audrey Gilbeau, with papers, demonstrate how communities were torn apart during their Our Journey Away from Lateral Violence presentation at Nokiiwin Tribal Council’s Access to Justice Forum 2017.

By Rick Garrick

THUNDER BAY—“Our Journey Away from Lateral Violence” and “Justice as Healing” were two of the presentations at Nokiiwin Tribal Council’s Access to Justice Forum 2017 in Thunder Bay.

“It went really well — it gave a really good experiential view to people who might not have an understanding of what happened with the history of our people,” says Fort William Councillor Michele Solomon, who delivered the “Our Journey Away from Lateral Violence” presentation along with Nokiiwin Tribal Council executive director Audrey Gilbeau. “It did give them a very good experiential view of how things happened, how our communities were torn apart.”

The Nokiiwin Tribal Council serves six First Nation communities in the Northern Superior region including: Fort William, Biinjitiwaabik Zaaging Anishinaabek and Pic Mobert.

Solomon and Gilbeau gathered the forum participants in the middle of the room to represent different segments of community during their opening exercise, and asked some members from each segment to step aside to represent those who were no longer in the community.

“Historically, that is how things happened in our communities,” Solomon says. “We were broken down by our languages, by our ways of living, by our ways of knowing, our social environment and our Elders and women. And our children is what really ripped the rug out from underneath our people.”

Solomon raised a First Nations saying about children being at the centre of the circle to begin the opening exercise.

“We want them to be closest to all the ways of seeing, knowing, being and doing so that they know who they are as Aboriginal people and carry on that everyday good living to the next generations,” Solomon says. “It is here at the center of the circle that they learn those skills, knowledges, attitudes and values to live that everyday good living. They learn their language, they learn their sacred responsibilities.”

The forum was held Feb. 22-23 at the Victoria Inn with a variety of presentations, including a keynote by Bora Laskin Faculty of Law Dean Angelique EagleWoman on Justice and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; the Ontario Native Women’s Association’s Aboriginal Justice Program; an update on the Indigenous People’s Court; and Proving the Sky is Blue: How to Frame a Case of Systemic Racism.

“These are important conversations for our communities to be having together,” Solomon says. “And it is important for us to be bringing this back home and trying to introduce lateral kindness to our communities.”

Raymond Francis, Gladue aftercare worker with the United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising, delivered the UCCMM – Justice as Healing presentation on the second day of the forum.

“Our approach is to try and look at making opportunity for making amends and restitution and equally to that trying to navigate a young person to move in a better, healthier walk,” Francis says. “We have completed 600 circles through the Community Justice Program and our recidivism rate is 15 per cent. So it is pretty good.”

Francis says community members are diverted from the court system after their first appearance as long as they are not facing charges related to death of the victim, domestic violence, aggravated assault, weapons offences and impaired driving.

“In my walk as far as 24 years working with our families and youth, I think the judicial circles, as I say in every circle I participate in, [are the] richest, accelerated way of helping our members,” Francis says. “And it is not punitive — it’s rich in supporting them and moving them in a direction of wellness.”