The Role of Elders and Knowledge Keepers in BC’s Justice Reform

Strategy 21 of the BC First Nations Justice Strategy is dedicated to the inclusion and utilization of Indigenous knowledge systems, particularly those held by Elders and Knowledge Keepers, in the transformation of justice services and structures. This strategy emphasizes the necessity of grounding justice initiatives in culturally relevant frameworks that honour Indigenous laws, protocols, and community-based practices.

The BC First Nations Justice Council (BCFNJC) is deeply committed to Strategy 21 of the BC First Nations Justice Strategy, which emphasizes the vital role of Elders and Knowledge Keepers in reforming the justice system. This strategy is central to both Track 1, which focuses on reforming the existing system, and Track 2, which aims at supporting Nations in the rebuilding of place-based justice institutions and legal orders.

Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers bring lived experiences and generational knowledge to the table, ensuring that justice initiatives are not only culturally appropriate but also deeply rooted in Indigenous laws and teachings.

By establishing the five steering committees BCFNJC aims to embed these cultural pillars within the justice framework, ensuring that their advice and perspectives are integral to the strategy’s implementation.

This inclusive and respectful integration of Indigenous knowledge and those who hold it, exemplifies the transformative potential of Strategy 21, setting a precedent for justice reform that is both culturally grounded and community-centric.

The BC First Nations Justice Council’s Steering Committees bring together teams of experts and changemakers in the field who hold direct knowledge and experience regarding distinct areas or “bundles” of work under the Justice Strategy.

BCFNJC Steering Committee Members were honoured through a blanketing ceremony during the 3rd Annual Justice Forum in Vancouver, BC from April 8th to 10th, 2024. Each Steering Committee focuses on supporting one of the five core areas of work under the Justice Strategy which include: Indigenous Justice Centres Services; Gladue Services; Indigenous Women’s Justice Plan, Youth, and Education; Policing, Oversight and Accountability; and Corrections, Diversion, and Community-Based Justice Programming. These committees also foster important, collaborative relationships with partners in the Province. Colleen Spier, the Assistant Deputy Minister of the Indigenous Justice Secretariat under the Ministry of the Attorney General, holds a seat in each Steering Committee, facilitating dialogue and action across ministries.

“Our Steering Committees are here to challenge us and help us grow. Holding valuable insights and external connections that extend past our organization and into the community, will raise important questions and help us make the difficult decisions as we expand our justice services for Indigenous people across BC. They will not only help us advance the Justice Strategy effectively but in ways that truly honour and respond to the needs of the 200+ First Nations in BC that BCFNJC holds a mandate to.” continued Amanda Carling. “With the support of the Steering Committees, our unprecedented justice work can continue to unfold in BC, watched by other provinces and by the federal government who can learn from and use the Justice Strategy as the framework for action.”

Moving forward, BCFNJC will continue to expand the Steering Committees and collaborate with them on important ongoing work, including the expansion of our Indigenous Justice Centres and the development of a new legal aid model for Indigenous people.