Hazelton Indigenous Court marks first anniversary

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The Hazelton Indigenous Court, the BC Provincial Court’s eighth Indigenous sentencing court, marked its first anniversary on August 3, 2022. Established through collaboration with the local and First Nations communities, the Court has succeeded in meeting unexpected challenges due to the perseverance and dedication of everyone involved.

Its opening was initially delayed due to the COVID pandemic. Then a formal opening ceremony planned for June 28, 2021 at K’San Village was postponed at the community’s request due to the “heat dome”. Nevertheless, the Court’s first sitting took place at the Erwin Stege Community Centre in New Hazelton on August 3, 2021, and the Court has sat every fourth Monday since then, except for statutory holidays.

Participants who plead guilty to one or more criminal offences come before the Court to develop healing plans with help from sitting Elders and be sentenced by a judge. Sentences usually incorporate healing plans. After their sentence is imposed, participants return to court regularly for reviews of their progress and their healing plans.

Elders play a crucial role in the Court’s work. They act as advisors to the judge and provide support to the offender, but they also hold the offender accountable. The Elders of the Hazelton Indigenous Court hope to graduate some of the Court’s first participants in the next few months.

Elders have made other significant contributions to the Hazelton Indigenous Court. Representatives of the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en First Nations, the provincial government, and the Court took part in a traditional tying ceremony at the Upper Skeena Recreation Centre on March 3, 2022. A cord woven from cedar bark was looped around participants’ wrists to symbolize their commitment to reconciliation through the Indigenous Court.

Art created by Elders for the Court was unveiled at the ceremony.

Elder Art Wilson created a custom background to be displayed whenever the Hazelton Indigenous Court is in session. His beautiful painting contains depictions of traditional First Nations clans while the scales of justice represent common law court traditions.

Another Indigenous Court elder, Beatrice Robocz, hand-made embroidered vests for each of the Court Elders to wear while participating in court proceedings.

The Provincial Court of BC’s other Indigenous sentencing courts are:

  • New Westminster First Nations Court (opened November 2006)
  • North Vancouver Chet wa nexwníw̓ ta S7eḵw’í7tel Indigenous Court (opened February 2012)
  • Kamloops Cknucwentn First Nations Sentencing Court (opened March 2013)
  • Duncan First Nations Court (opened May 2013)
  • Nicola Valley Indigenous Court (opened in Merritt, October 2017)
  • Prince George Indigenous Court (opened April 2018)
  • Williams Lake Indigenous Court (opened December 2020)

For more information, see the Indigenous Courts page on our website or watch this video.