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Justice for Teslin Tlingit

The new administration of justice agreement gives the Teslin Tlingit Council more credibility, says Victoria Fred, a local aboriginal lawyer who helped negotiate the deal. “It gives credence to the recognition of Teslin Tlingit authority,” said Fred.
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The new administration of justice agreement gives the Teslin Tlingit Council more credibility, says Victoria Fred, a local aboriginal lawyer who helped negotiate the deal.

“It gives credence to the recognition of Teslin Tlingit authority,” said Fred. “Equally as important, it provides greater access to justice for Teslin Tlingit citizens.”

All Yukon self-government agreements allow First Nation governments to make laws.

They also outline the intent to eventually sign an administration of justice agreement, but Teslin is the first to do it.

They have been working on it since 1995.

The agreement not only gives the First Nation the ability to enforce its own laws, but permits it to set up a court system.

Teslin’s own Peacemaker Court is expected to be up and running within four years.

It is hoped this court can resolve conflict in ways more conducive to Teslin Tlingit culture, said Fred.

“The mainstream system is pretty linear in thinking,” said Georgina Sydney, another Teslin negotiator. “You break the law, you go to court. Then you go to jail or pay a fine. But with the Teslin Tlingit justice system, we look at it holistically. When someone breaks the law, we look at, ‘Why did they do it? What happened? What’s making them misbehave?’ And then we address the issue.”

The approach respects the culture of family and community and that will lead to the end of conflicts being ignored or escalated by the public system – while still not getting resolved, said Fred.

But this won’t result in people getting “off the hook,” both women agreed. If anything, it means the exact opposite.

“It’s escapism for our citizens to have their case heard downtown because they’re not being judged by their peers,” said Fred. “There is not the same level of expectation to succeed when you’re not being judged by your peers or when your family’s not sitting there. With the clan system, it’s raising the bar.”

There are five clans in the matriarchal, Teslin Tlingit culture: the raven child, frog, wolf, split-tail beaver and eagle. And when you are a part of a clan, anything and everything you do is reflected in the reputation of the entire clan, said Sydney. “Your clan is held responsible. That’s how we keep things balanced.”

This agreement signifies Teslin Tligit people working with their own people and their own laws, with their own resources on their own land, said Fred.

When asked whether or not this would only strengthen divisions between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people in the territory, Sydney interrupted.

“It’s not creating a nation within a nation,” she said. “It’s recognizing a nation that was already there.”

And when people make comments like ‘this will only further separate us,’ they expose their lack of awareness to the statistics and the oppression aboriginal people face in mainstream systems, said Fred.

“Sometimes we have to separate ourselves in order for us to maintain the integrity of who we are as a people so that we can more effectively deal with the issues,” she said. “Clearly we see that the mainstream system isn’t doing it for us, so we’ve taken it upon ourselves to correct it. That’s called self-accountability. That’s what self-determination is about.”

Sydney has wanted something like this to happen in her community ever since she was young. Now that it’s getting in place, she feels better about the future, she said.

“I feel comfortable that my grandchildren and their grandchildren are going to be taken care of, as well as the land and the wildlife,” she said, adding they won’t have to live through the oppression she has.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at roxannes@yukon-news.com