Message from Irwin Elman
The Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth
Feathers of Hope Justice and Juries: A First Nations Youth Action Plan for Justice (2016)
A lot has happened since the release of Feathers of Hope: A First Nations Youth Action Plan. In 2014, my Office was honoured when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) invited the Feathers of Hope team to be part of a panel and offer a statement of Reconciliation at the National Event in Edmonton, Alberta. At the event, the Action Plan was added to the Bentwood Box and will become part of the permanent record at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
Since that time, we have hosted a TRC Education Day for over 2000 students here in Ontario, and travelled across the country and internationally to speak about the work Feathers of Hope (FOH) does to mobilize change and where possible create the conditions needed for young people to claim their voices and use them to advocate for change in their communities and for the generation of young people coming up behind them. This past June, we were once again honoured to be a part of the work of the TRC as were invited to be part of the final release of the Executive Summary of the Commission’s final report. The Feathers of Hope Youth Amplifiers hosted two workshops that were attended by more than 1500 students and teachers in Ottawa.
While all this was happening, the Feathers of Hope team continued the most important part of their work; connecting with young people. They travelled to northern communities to host mini FOH forums. They worked with government ministries to push for ways to bring young people into the work of creating healthy communities, where the possibilities of hope are tied to creating opportunities for employment, education in communities that are safe and healthy and are able to care for its children and youth. Even as this report is being released we are already working on our 3rd report tied to the Feathers of Hope forum on Child Welfare held in May 2015.
The timing of our report aligns with the recent decision of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal with respect to the funding of child welfare services in Canada. The Advocate’s Office has been a witness to the work of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society from the beginning of its work to bring to light the inequities faced by Aboriginal children in care. It is clear to me that we are in a time of change, a time where young people are saying they want to be part of, and at times lead, that change.
In the pages that follow, you will read about policing, the courts, juries and the implications of a Supreme Court of Canada decision commonly referred to as “Gladue.” As we learned through the Justice and Juries forum process, young people do not feel the issue of jury representation is a standalone issue. They believe that the failure of the justice system to meet the needs of Aboriginal people plays a significant role in Why Aboriginal People chose not to participate in the jury process. The thoughtfulness and focus that they bring to the report is reflective of the seriousness of the conversations that were part of the forum. It also highlights that young people are seeking a new kind of relationship with the justice system; one that begins with building trust. They see a lot of work ahead and are willing to pull up their sleeves and get to work, but they want assurances that they will have committed partners to work with in the systems and institutions involved in the delivery of justice. There are centuries of pain that need to be addressed. Their hope is that in moving forward there will be a commitment to work together on the part of the government, Aboriginal leadership and their communities to create a justice System that is reflective of Aboriginal peoples’ values and beliefs and committed to change and the hard work of healing.
I hope you enjoy the report and that you read it, share it, take it into your classrooms. Most importantly, I hope it allows you to see that young people have a voice and that they need to be part of the work and the action that is needed. They need to be part of creating their own future, a future tied to a model of justice that is supportive, welcoming and reflective of their culture and belief systems.