Historical Relationship Between the Canadian Justice System and Aboriginal People

The Historical Relationship Between
The Canadian Justice System and Aboriginal People

Associate Chief Judge Murray Sinclair

To the Aboriginal Justice Learning Network Constituency Group Meeting
Elders-Policy Makers-Academics

Ayler, Quebec
April 16 - 18, 1997

In April 1997, the Aboriginal Justice Learning Network (AJLN) held a gathering of Aboriginal Elders, policy makers and academics in Alymer, Quebec. Associate Chief Judge Murray Sinclair of the Provincial Court of Manitoba presented his views on the historical relationship between the Canadian justice system and Aboriginal peoples at this meeting.

The AJLN published Mr. Sinclair's views in a book format. His speech has become a learning tool for many groups, individuals and institutions throughout the country.


Transcript of Presentation by Associate Chief Judge Murray Sinclair
Elders-Policy Makers-Academics Constituency Group Meeting
Aylmer, Quebec, April 16-18, 1997

We have a lot of ground to cover, all of us, in a very short period of time. We only have one lifetime each and we have much to do when it comes to dealing with Aboriginal people and justice issues. I am not sure that one lifetime is enough to do all that needs to be done.

So let us begin with the understanding that we cannot do all of the things that need to be done in the short time we have together. We can only do so much with what we have been given and we can only go so far within the time that we are here together.

As always, I'm a bit perplexed about how I can contribute to the conversation when invited to gatherings like this because I'm never certain what it is that each of you knows, nor am I certain of what each of you do or want to do and how I can help with whatever you've come here for.

So, perhaps, some of you have already heard some of the things I'm going to talk about, however there are many of you here who I have not previously met and those people have not yet had a chance to hear some of the views that I have on the issues that Aboriginal people face in the Aboriginal justice system. You have also not had an opportunity to hear, perhaps, some of my thoughts about where it is, we should be going...

If you have heard some of these thoughts, I hope you can listen once more, and perhaps they ll help you
to get a new insight.

I'm always a bit concerned and humbled when I m asked to speak to a gathering like this, such an august body of people with such knowledge and I m not talking about you lawyers, incidentally, so stop sticking out your chests.

I'm talking about our Elders here, who have so much information and knowledge about the things I am only beginning to understand and have not yet grasped the full ability to apply those things to my life or for that matter, to the lives of others.

So I want to begin by acknowledging the greater gifts they have and the greater understanding they can bring to this conversation.

On the other hand however, I also recognize that my law degree seems to give me instant credibility with some people. My stature as a judge makes you feel compelled to listen to me. So I will take advantage of that by doing what it is that you ve asked me to do and that is to talk to you.

Where do we begin?

It is hard to know where we begin. It really is, because as I said earlier we have so much ground to cover, so many things that we want to do.

I have been asked to talk primarily, to address the issue of the Aboriginal Justice Learning Network and where I see it going, what I see it being able to do. So as with all good speakers I'm told by my Elders, keep the best part to the end so I m going to do that, I'm going to talk about that at the end just in case you thought I was leading to a conclusion.

What I do want to talk to you about are some very basic issues I think you need to keep your mind on as we are going through this process.

The most important thing that we as human beings have to come to grips with, is who we are. That is the biggest question in life, who am I? The biggest question of life necessarily leads us to ask other questions, such as, Where did I come from? And Why am I here? And probably the most important question is, Where am I going, and what s going to happen to me after my life is over on this earth and I go to the next world? What happens to me over there? And our Elders always tell us that those questions are very basic to open for every human being...

Download the complete transcript as an acrobat PDF file.

Note: Judge Murray Sinclair is currently Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission