On Indigenous Justice Awareness Day, First Nation Leaders in Manitoba Stand United to End Systemic Racism in the Justice System
February 24, 2023
Treaty One Territory, Manitoba
Treaty One Territory – On Indigenous Justice Awareness Day, February 24, 2023, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC), Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc. (MKO), and the Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO) stand united in the shared goal of ending systemic racism in all parts of the justice system.
“It has been over thirty years since the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry and our people continue to be disproportionately arrested and incarcerated. Our women and girls do not feel safer,” said AMC Grand Chief Cathy Merrick. “Both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action and National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Calls for Justice continue to highlight the lack of progress that has been made since the AJI. We call on the Manitoba and Canadian governments to honour the principles and vision of the AJI and commit to work with First Nations in Manitoba to fully implement the recommendations of the AJI as well as the TRC Calls to Action and the MMIWG Calls for Justice.”
The 1987 trial and outcome of the kidnapping and murder of Helen Betty Osborne and the 1988 Winnipeg Police Services shooting and killing of John Joseph Harper (JJ Harper) led the Province of Manitoba to create the Public Inquiry into the Administration of Justice and Aboriginal Peoples, otherwise referred to as the AJI. The death of JJ Harper also led to the Island Lake Tribal Council to initiating a First Nation commemorative “JJ Harper Day,” which is now referred to as Indigenous Justice Awareness Day.
The AJI final report was released in 1991 and stated that “the justice system has failed Manitoba’s Aboriginal people on a massive scale … it is not merely that the justice system has failed Aboriginal people; justice has been denied to them.” It is an incredible failure of the Manitoba and Canadian governments that since that report over 30 years ago, incarceration rates for First Nation people have only worsened. To date most of the 296 recommendations have not been implemented.
“The AMC stands united with the MKO and SCO in ending systemic racism in the justice system,” said AMC Grand Chief Merrick “My office and the AMC Secretariat continue to work with our federal and provincial partners to improve access to justice and the elimination of systemic racism. We are also in discussions with federal and provincial politicians and government representatives to work on issues from Legal Aid Manitoba and representation of First Nations in the current justice system, the development of a First Nation-led pilot court and that can lead to the re-establishment of First Nations justice systems, and a related project to restore and revitalize the legal traditions and laws respecting the five Nation/language groups in Manitoba. The AMC continues to work toward the full restoration of First Nation’s inherent jurisdiction in the area of justice through the operation of justice systems mandated by First Nations carrying out their own laws.”
“In solidarity with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Southern Chiefs’ Organization, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak implores the provincial and federal governments to fully implement the recommendations of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action, and the Calls for Justice set out by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls,” stated MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee. “Our citizens remain disproportionately overrepresented in the justice system, and our staff continue to work diligently with MKO First Nations to address the systemic racism and discrimination that still exist to this day. We all have a responsibility to stand together and work towards immediate and significant changes for our people within the justice system, and MKO vows to persist until First Nations people no longer face discrimination due systemic racism.”
“The Southern Chiefs’ Organization remains committed to carrying out critical work to reduce the overrepresentation of our citizens within the justice system in Manitoba. We continue to urge our federal and provincial Treaty partners to stand with us in improving the justice system by implementing the recommendations of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry, the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the Calls for Justice from the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. These inquiries can help improve society if we respond to the lessons learned. We have a vision and a pathway to reform the justice system and address the systemic racism within it. Today, we continue to advocate for the right to administer our inherent jurisdiction over justice in our Anishinaabe and Dakota Nations,” shared SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels.
“It is essential for allies to stand with First Nations citizens as we work to confront injustices and change the justice system. The AMC, MKO, and SCO extend our appreciation to the late Mr. Harvey Pollock, who passed away on Feb 5, 2023. Mr. Pollock represented the family of the late JJ Harper during the AJI and was considered a friend, colleague, and ally to First Nations. His passion and commitment to standing with us is a good example to others on how to be an effective ally. We extend our condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues on his passing,” concluded AMC Grand Chief Merrick.
For more information, please contact:
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs
Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc.
Southern Chiefs’ Organization
About the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs
The AMC was formed in 1988 by the Chiefs in Manitoba to advocate on issues that commonly affect First Nations in Manitoba. AMC is an authorized representative of 62 of the 63 First Nations in Manitoba with a total of more than 151,000 First Nation citizens in the province, accounting for approximately 12 percent of the provincial population. AMC represents a diversity of Anishinaabe (Ojibway), Nehetho / Ininew (Cree), Anishininew (Ojibwe-Cree), Denesuline (Dene) and Dakota Oyate (Dakota) people.
About the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak
Incorporated in 1981 as the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, MKO is a non-profit, political advocacy organization that provides a collective voice on issues of inherent, Treaty, Aboriginal and human rights for the citizens of the sovereign First Nations we represent. The MKO First Nations are signatory to Treaties 4, 5, 6 and 10.
About the Southern Chiefs’ Organization
The Southern Chiefs’ Organization represents 34 Anishinaabe and Dakota Nations and more than 83,000 citizens in what is now called southern Manitoba. SCO is an independent political organization that protects, preserves, promotes, and enhances First Nations peoples’ inherent rights, languages, customs, and traditions through the application and implementation of the spirit and intent of the Treaty-making process.