President Brad Regehr discusses Calls to Action 34 and 40 with Harold R. Johnson and Stacey Soldier. They speak on the problem of over-incarceration of Indigenous peoples and how the system failed them.
President Brad Regehr discusses Calls to Action 34 and 40 with Harold R. Johnson and Stacey Soldier. They speak on the problem of over-incarceration of Indigenous peoples and how the system failed them.
Harold Johnson is a lawyer with Master in Law from Harvard and 10 years as a Saskatchewan Crown prosecutor under his belt. He’s also a prolific author, writing both fiction and non-fiction.
Stacey Soldier, an associate with Cochrane Saxberg Barristers and Solicitors in Winnipeg, has worked as a criminal lawyer since being called to the bar in Manitoba in 2008. She was part of the intervenor legal team acting for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs before the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
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Voiceover: This is The Every Lawyer, presented by the Canadian Bar Association.
Tansi, bonjour, and hello everyone – welcome to Conversations with the President. My name is Brad Regehr. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, published in 2015, contained 94 Calls to Action – things that needed to be done in order for reconciliation to take place. In this episode we’re going to discuss Calls to Action 34 through 40, all of which deal with Indigenous people in the justice system. In his 2020 report, Corrections Investigator, Dr. Ivan Zinger, talked about the indigenisation of the Federal Corrections System, calling it a National Travesty.
Indigenous people make up 30 percent of the Federal Prison population. Indigenous women make up 42 percent of the female prison population. This is not a one-dimensional problem, and moving to a place to equal justice will take a multi-faceted solution.
To talk about this problem and discuss solutions, my guests today are Harold Johnson, who has worked in a host of occupations, but most relevant to us, he’s a lawyer with a Master of Laws from Harvard and 10 years as a Saskatchewan Crown Prosecutor under his belt. He’s also a prolific author, writing both fiction and non-fiction, including the book Firewater: How Alcohol is Killing My People (and Yours), which was nominated for a [Government/Governor 00:01:33] General’s Award in 2016, and Peace and Good Order, the case for Indigenous Justice in Canada.
Welcome, Harold – thank you for joining us.
Harold R. Johnson: Thank you for having me.
Brad Regehr: My other guest is Stacey Soldier, a proud member of the Swan Lake First Nation, who grew up in Thompson, Manitoba. An Associate with Cochrane Saxberg Barristers and Solicitors in Winnipeg, she has worked as a Criminal Lawyer since being called to the Manitoba Bar in 2008. She was part of the intervenor legal team acting for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs before the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. In 2018, she appeared as Counsel on their behalf at their behalf at the Criminal Justice Systems Hearings in Quebec City. Stacey, welcome – thanks for joining us here.
Stacey Soldier: Thank you for having me today.
Brad Regehr: So we only have a little bit of time and I know this is a big, big subject area dealing with the Calls to Action with regard to criminal justice. Harold I’m going to start with you; the problem of over-incarceration of Indigenous peoples doesn’t start with Corrections Canada – let’s talk a little bit about root causes, long before anything gets to the Court.
If you could fix something, what would you fix?
Harold R. Johnson: I would delete the word deterrents from the Criminal Code.
Brad Regehr: And why would you?
Harold R. Johnson: Firstly, it doesn’t work. It’s never worked. What we’re dealing with is unhealthy communities, and the communities are made unhealthy by the Justice System, in part by police. By taking our people and sending them to jail, where they learn a new culture. Residential schools erased our culture, but they didn’t give us a replacement one. In about 1960 in Saskatchewan we started locking up Aboriginal people, and the incarceration rate has continuously climbed since then. We changed the Criminal Code in about ’95, added Section 718 2E; didn’t make any difference – the incarceration rates continued to climb.
Supreme Court came down with the decision R. vs Gladue, told Judges to pay attention to what the legislation said, that they had to take into account the unique circumstances of Aboriginal people – nothing changed. Incarceration rates continued to climb. During that period I had a Judge and I made Gladue arguments, and he got really angry at me for making those arguments, and I know he gave my client a harsher penalty because I had dared to make Gladue arguments.
Supreme Court came back with R. vs Ipeelee, told Judges you damn well pay attention to what we said in Gladue; nothing changed – the incarceration rates continued to climb. And now we’re in 2021, and nothing that we’ve done tinkering with the Justice System has made any difference. Now we’re locking up more women and children than at any time before. Throughout this period, we’ve been sending people to jail, and they come back to the communities, and they bring a new culture. They bring back jail-house culture.
In jail you learn violence solves problems, the tough guy’s the hero. The institutions going to feed you. If you’re bad in [the roof 00:05:15] you learn to disrespect authority. And we bring this culture and this jail-house language back into our communities and we teach it to the youth. We’ve got youth today who think the jail-house culture is Aboriginal culture. And through this process we continuously destroy our communities. But justice isn’t interested in communities. We’ve got this story, we tell ourselves that justice is about the individual, and that we can only deal with individuals. And it’s not our business to solve community problems. And in maintaining that attitude, we’re destroying communities, and we need healthy communities to have healthy people.
Brad Regehr: Thanks. Stacey, do you have anything you want to add to that?
Stacey Soldier: The only comment I can really add to that is just there’s this expectation from the public that the criminal justice system has to deal with people – they’ve got to lock people up. So these very American ideas, and these very old – I say old-fashioned ideas about crime and punishment, really takes over, particularly when you see cases that attract a lot of media attention. What’s really forgotten in all of this is that by the time people get to the criminal justice system there’s already – they’ve already been through a number of system failures. And by systems I mean things like the family has failed in some way, and for many Indigenous people, it’s as a result of colonisation and many of the different after-effects that have gone on over the last century and a bit – a century and a half.
So the family is dealing with a lot of trauma and dealing with trauma that’s been long-standing within them and their communities. And then you look to the community to maybe deal with this person, like this person is having a lot of difficulty, their family unit is in disarray. Well OK, then, like let’s bring in the CFS system. And then again we see, throughout the CFS system, throughout the history, particularly in Manitoba, and all across the country we have a number of different ways where the CFS system offered no assistance in making life better for Indigenous people. When in fact, oftentimes a lot of trauma has come out of that system.
So then the person then gets to the criminal justice system and now there’s this idea that OK well the system is going to clear this up and take care of this problem. But we’re really forgetting that just by the time the person gets there, we’re sort of the last stop, the criminal justice system, and it’s like putting a Band-Aid on something that’s completely gushing – a complete gushing wound. You know basically our solution, and that’s basically what the public – and the public gets outraged that things, that we’re not locking up people up and we don’t have the death penalty.
So I think, one, there needs to be education in terms of what the Justice system actually is set up to do. And then also the realities of what’s – of what are some of the things that has brought a person to the criminal justice system, an understanding of the failures that have occurred that have put them in this position.
Brad Regehr: Can you give me some examples of times when the system failed Indigenous peoples?
Harold R. Johnson: Easy. A woman and her boyfriend, they’re young, in their 20’s. They’re having a couple of beer – they’re not drunk, they’ve only had a couple. They’re sharing a cigarette. He reached over and took the cigarette out of her mouth before she was ready, and something about him touching her lips triggered her PTSD, and her fight, flight or freeze. The next thing she remembers, she’s outside, and she’d gave – she was giving the knife to her aunt. She’d stabbed her boyfriend seven times. It’s a huge victim offender overlap.
As a Crown Prosecutor, I handled 1,500 files a year in Northern Saskatchewan. Just assume 1,000 of those files documented a trauma – multiple traumas, because it isn’t just the victim; we know that the offender is traumatised by the atrocities that they commit as well. So you’ve got an offender, a victim, and the five kids who watched in each of those files. Now take my 1,000 files and multiply it by 11 Prosecutors for Northern Saskatchewan, and we’ve got 11,000 files a year, each documenting multiple traumas. And there’s only 37,000 people in Northern Saskatchewan – it doesn’t take very many years until that population is traumatised multiple times.
Now you’ve got a highly traumatised civilian population, and a traumatised police force; I don’t know how members I know right now who are on PTSD leave – they’ve just seen too much. All of those files that are looked at, with all of those pictures of crime scenes and autopsies, the ones that [told me 00:11:00] with vicarious trauma. Well those police officers were there, and they weren’t looking at pictures of blood – they could smell the blood. So we’ve got a traumatised population and a traumatised police force interacting, and the public expects good things to come from that, and it isn’t working.
Brad Regehr: Stacey, do you want to give any examples?
Stacey Soldier: Well I think in Manitoba we have a pretty clear example of the fact that it’s been, what 30 years since the AJI, and things in the criminal justice system in this province are more or less exactly the same as what was described in that report. There’s been very little movement or engagement to try to deal with the issues that was found within. And by example I use – the example I can point to is access to justice in Northern Manitoba where there is issues with the bail system. And Justice Chris Martin of the Manitoba Court of Appeal has a very pointed decision at the system in Balfour and Young, which was just from last year. Where it can take days, if not weeks, for a person to be able to get their day in court for a bail application.
Now you know at all times we always hear well things have gotten better, we’ve made some changes. But really – and what I’ve seen in other provinces and their sort of movement to deal with Indigenous over-incarceration in their provinces, and it always seems to me, unfortunately, that Manitoba is a day late and a dollar short. Like innovation here was – it was great thing when there were extra phones put into the remand centre during COVID so people can – more lawyers can try to get in touch with their client. There just doesn’t seem to be that real sense of urgency to move forward.
And it’s not as though people don’t – it’s not as though those in power don’t know what to do – the AJI, and the number of reports that have happened since then, really gives a roadmap. You know it’s not a great mystery of things that need to get done because it was laid out 30 years ago.
Brad Regehr: Sorry, just for our listeners – the AJI, that’s the Access – that’s the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry which was conducted here in Manitoba. So Access to Justice – everyone’s talking about it now; courts are talking about it, Law Association’s talking about it, law societies are talking about it. What does Access to Justice mean for Indigenous people?
Harold R. Johnson: With the present system it’s impossible. Our biggest problem is poverty; we can’t afford lawyers. That’s the problem with the justice system – it’s too expensive. We’ve got this class of people, a parasitic class of lawyers living off the suffering of the people. Legal Aid doesn’t work.
Brad Regehr: Stacey, what do you think Access to Justice means for Indigenous people?
Stacey Soldier: Access to Justice, I think for Indigenous people really would be justice found within the community. And as I said, the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry, the AJI, it describes this [clean load 00:14:21] of people, generally White people, who come in, for the day, they’re not part of the community, they’re don’t know the community. There’s certainly, I would say, a lack of trust of these people, because sometimes you don’t always get the same Crown Attorneys. For the most part you do get the same Legal Aid lawyers, but they come in, they “administer justice”, and I use quotations when I say that. And then they pack up and they leave until the next month or whenever – if the weather is fine, then they can come back in. But sometimes the weather isn’t great and there may be a month or two or even three before they can come back in.
And so even something as simple as being able to administer justice in their own way, there’s some communities that have justice committees where Elders sit with the Judge at the table, and I took part in one out in [unintelligible 00:15:19] where I came out and I was dealing with a matter. But those are very rare – I think Peguis might do that, Lake St. Martin, the nearest court centre to them is Ashern. But again these sort of changes are done very incrementally and very slowly.
Brad Regehr: I know we talked a little bit abouts aspects of society and their reaction in terms of what they want – they want punishment. So when there are alternative methods of sentencing, like Sentencing Circles, there’s Healing Circles, critics will say that’s not punishment. And there’s that sense that there has to be punishment – perpetrators must be made to hurt or else they’ve gotten away with it, and they won’t change. How do you respond to that?
Harold R. Johnson: We need free education in this country. The demand for greater and greater punishment and Bar justice – we now have 326 RCMP officers in Norther Saskatchewan, policing a population of 37,000. Imagine a small city with over 300 police officers in it – a city the size of Moose Jaw. And the problem is trauma. We don’t need 326 police officers; we need 326 trauma counsellors. Every time we ask for help they send us more police. Sending more police to fix the problem, it’s like asking for more buckets to fix a leaking roof.
The greater the demands to punish and hurt, the more punished and hurt our communities become. And the more punished and hurt our communities, the more hurt our people are.
Brad Regehr: Stacey, how would you respond to those critics?
Stacey Soldier: Well, I think there’s certainly a misunderstanding and lack of education. And the fact that, throughout history, distrust in the system has developed not only for what’s been implemented as the justice system, and it was essentially forced on Indigenous communities, but also the professionals working within it. And so sometimes this is a really hard thing for lawyers to comprehend and even to contemplate, that we’re a part of this racist colonial system. Even today, from certain Indigenous perspectives, the law was only ever designed to be enforced against Indigenous people and never meant to serve them.
And so when you look at different examples within the justice system, such as bail; so a surety, or cash bail requirements of a residence. So if a person is relying on a family member back home on the Reserve to assist them in getting out of jail, you can’t – they wouldn’t quality for a surety unless it’s a named surety. Unless the court’s prepared to accept the person as being a named surety. Oftentimes people don’t have money to put down on a cash bail. And I know the Supreme Court has come out with some decisions that really targets the bail system. But the realities of practice and the realities of the people that we’re dealing with within this justice system, people just don’t have the resources of that, at all.
And so one of the things to keep in mind as well when we discuss concepts like Access to Justice, this involves more than access to legal representation. I would say it involves access to adequate competent and effective legal representation that acknowledges, understands and listens to these Indigenous communities and the people. And so that requires really difficult conversations and really difficult self-reflections about racism in colonialism.
Brad Regehr: So what can lawyers do specifically – is cultural competency, which the TRC Report talks about – is that what is needed?
Harold R. Johnson: In part. But before we get to that, teach lawyers about trauma. Lawyers need to know what is going on. So your witness who can’t remember something, was traumatised by the atrocity committed against them – their memory isn’t going to be perfect because of the trauma. They’re not lying when they don’t remember. The woman who laid there and let her assaulter do what he wanted, wasn’t consenting. Trauma results in fight, flight or freeze; she laid there not doing anything because she couldn’t move – she was frozen.
Just a couple of examples about trauma. But every lawyer and every judge needs to learn about trauma. How it works, what it’s impacts are on the people. Remember that the offender was traumatised as well. And especially when you’ve got victims and especially victims of sexual assault on the stand. You have to remember that they were traumatised, and their answers are going to reflect that. Just because they can’t remember time doesn’t mean that they’re lying – it means that their brain wasn’t recalling things. And if they don’t remember things that you’d expect them to remember, it’s because the brain didn’t want to remember that – it’s too painful to remember, so I blocked it.
I wish I’d have known more about trauma while I was practising – I haven’t been in a court room in five years. My trauma is healing and thankfully I’m [forgiving/forgetting 00:21:25] a lot of things. But I wish that I had known more about trauma when I was in practice – it would have helped me, and it would have helped the people that I was trying to serve.
Brad Regehr: Stacey, what do you think?
Stacey Soldier: Well, I take Harold’s comments very seriously, and I was really lucky that throughout the fall I had the opportunity to get pointed to the trauma-informed lawyer podcast. And it really had me thinking because I do – I’m a sessional lecturer at the Faculty of Law at the University of Manitoba. So that’s certainly recommended for my students, that they take a listen to that podcast as well as this one of course. But while I was getting ready for the first day of class in early January, I had actually sent out an email to the class, because what we talk about is Aboriginal law, some specific topics in criminal justice, and family law in relation to child protection, is that I reminded them that these topics are not easy topics.
And particularly with the TRC which was part of the readings for the first day of class, even in preparation for it every year that I’ve taught this, I generally have to take a step back and do something positive and not think about it. Because it is very traumatising to read this. I have family members who attended Residential school, including my mother, and to read these stories and read some of the information and equate it with the experiences that my family member might have come – might have dealt with in their lives, it’s just – it’s a very difficult read. And so that was the thing that I had pointed out to students, and that it was going to be really important for them to have a self-care plan while they were taking my class.
And that they needed to step back when things were overwhelming or if it was triggering in any way. Because these are difficult topics. And so as it turned out, on the first day of class, so we were on a Zoom or the Cisco WebEx system, and one of the students who I actually know – her dog came into the picture. And so I, you know I love dogs, so I was talking to the dog. And then it turned into everybody was showing me their pets and then we had a discussion on – well one of the things I had wanted to confirm, has everyone thought about their self-care plan and what they’re doing. And then everybody started sharing, even though I didn’t request, but everybody started sharing the things they were going to do for themselves.
And I thought that was really, really important. And it’s just a continuing reminder that I do with my class every class, in terms of what’s your self-care plan, what are you guys going to do. Because there’s times where I call for a break early, because we’re taking about something that’s just so fundamentally unfair that it’s happened to Indigenous people. Even on Zoom, like I can tell the mood is just – like people are just not doing well. So I’ll call for a break and just give them a chance to sort of regroup and take a little bit of a break before coming back for the discussions.
So that kind of thing, in my own small way, because I’m no means – by any means an expert at all, but that’s what I’ve started to do in terms of the classes that I teach.
Brad Regehr: Thank you both for sharing. I’m the First Nations’ President of the Canadian Bar Association; I’ve tried to make priority the Calls to Action. What do the two of you think that groups like the Canadian Bar Association or the Federation of Law Societies, what can they do?
Harold R. Johnson: I don’t believe tinkering with the system’s going to make any difference. We’ve been tinkering with it for at least 50 years. The last Justice Conference I was at was in Winnipeg, and Ovide Mercredi spoke, he remembered the first conference he was at in 1970 on Lake, on a boat on Lake Winnipeg, called Indians in the Justice System. We’ve been coming together having these conferences every year and I’ve attended a lot of them, and nothing changes. Nothing ever changes. We’ve got professors and Deputy Ministers of Justice, leading lawyers and Appeal Court Judges, all at these conferences, and they like to hear themselves speak.
What we need is to go down to the street and get an Aboriginal woman and bring her in and give her something to eat and something warm to drink, ask her what it feels like to be an Aboriginal woman on the streets of Winnipeg. This justice system we have has been around for 1500 years, and for 1500 years it has failed. You can show me no proof that the justice system has reduced crime. It’s only served to make it worse. We scrap the justice System, [chase it the hell 00:26:43] out of our communities, and rebuild our own, without judges, without lawyers, without law societies. There’s a lie going around that we don’t have a death penalty in Canada – we do. For every year a person is incarcerated, they reduce their life expectancy by two years.
So as a Crown Prosecutor, if I asked for 30 years of jail time [cumulatively 00:27:18] over several accused, double that by two – life expectancy in Northern Saskatchewan is about 60 years – I’ve taken a life. And I know over 10 years as a prosecutor, cumulatively I’ve taken several lives. We have to recognise that 95 percent of the men incarcerated in Edmonton were physically or sexually abused as children. And 97 percent of women incarcerated were physically or sexually abused as children. And until we start to fix that, there’s nothing that the justice system has to offer us.
Brad Regehr: Stacey, do you have anything to add to that?
Stacey Soldier: Well, this question came up in a seminar that I was teaching since the beginning of January, in relation to Indigenous people and the criminal justice system. So there was almost this overwhelming sense of like what do we do? Because it was [a course 00:28:36] with practitioners, with [articling 00:28:37] students and law students. And I think, across the board, the feeling was definitely like we’ve got to tear down this system and start anew. With this idea that, for Indigenous people, nothing about us without us, right. So the solutions have to come from Indigenous people and their communities. But it certainly was pointed out that okay, well until that happens, what should we be doing?
And so the fact that people want to – the lawyers want to have this education, want to know how can I be more sensitive? How can I have more knowledge, where are some of the things that I need to go or get this information. What I say to my classes and say to the classes that I’ve taught, and the students that I’ve taught, is that I’m sure everybody’s had this experience of, you know, when you were a kid, oh you’re such a good – you make such a good argument, you should be a lawyer. But really I think there’s that the best quality in the lawyers that I admire, that I think are more effective, is the fact that they’re such amazing listeners.
Because you really do have to have a sense of when it’s time to talk and when it’s time to listen. So one of the things that we talked about in the seminar that I was teaching, that Justice and Senator Sinclair – Senator Sinclair came to speak and set the tone in the first class. Was that it’s really important for lawyers to objectively and honestly evaluate what their own biases and stereotypes are. And understand that those are potential barriers to effectively communicate with their clients, and as well as their Indigenous clients. Because everybody has biases. Everybody has – makes these assumptions – none of us are immune from that.
So even just to recognise that is, I think is a huge step forward. Then not approaching the clients with – or Indigenous people who are their clients, from a position of assertive superiority – you don’t want to trivialise their cultural differences that you have with them. So that’s really important and like the self-evaluation that goes into that, and I outlined a time where my own biases at court, because I talk about these times where I go to court and I’m mistaken for an accused. Or I’m mistaken for a mum who’s dealing with CFS. Or I’m challenged on coming to court and I have to show my ID. I even had one situation where the security officer at the law courts after hours took the time to check on the Law Society website to see if it was really me, that there was actually this lawyer, as though I somehow had the skills to fake a Law Society ID.
But I did the same thing to another person – an Indigenous person at one of the rural courthouses. And as soon as I realised that, that this person was not a dad who was there for CFS court, he was actually a professional – he was there as an agency worker. And as soon as I realised that, like it just hit me like a ton of bricks – like I was almost in tears; I was so mad at myself that I did that. And I was really beating myself up about that. It was just such a good reminder to always sort of check your privilege and check your own biases. And I ended up having like a conversation, just you know I had this person come away, away from all the other people, and I explained to him what I did. And he was very understanding. I just say no, you don’t understand like how terrible I feel, because I rail against this, that it’s happened to me, and yet here I am doing the same thing.
So that’s really – you know it comes down to that education; until we get to that time where we can tear down the system and Indigenous people take control of their traditional views on justice and implement it – education is definitely needed.
Brad Regehr: So I just want to turn quickly to the whole area of Indigenous legal traditions. What difference do you think the official recognition of Indigenous legal traditions would mean in terms of the over-representation of Indigenous people within the criminal justice system. I’m going to start with Stacey this time.
Stacey Soldier: Well, I think I’ve said this before, you know you really kind of look back to the AJI and see what it says about that, about legal traditions. Because it’s not all just a thing about Sentencing Circles and people are getting away with crime and whatever else. There’s a comment, and I think it was from the AJI, where it’s really important, you know the Elders’ advice would watch twice and speak once, and I think that’s incredibly important. [However 00:33:50] we’re kind of seeing that and watching with Bill C-92 in the Child Welfare system.
Now that particular Bill, you know there were some issues with it when it was first introduced and now it’s passed into law and it’s now called an Act Respecting First Nations, Inuit and Metis Children, Youth and Families. And where communities are able to develop and implement their own code as it relates to Child Welfare systems, I don’t see why that can’t also be done with respect to First Nations and Indigenous communities as well.
So I think this is almost like – I don’t want to say a test case, because Child Welfare I think on its own is a very important issue that there definitely needs to be some – I don’t want to use the word self-governance. But certainly First Nations control over their own systems – I think that’s really important. But that might be a way to work towards Indigenous control over the legal – of their own legal systems.
Brad Regehr: Harold, what do you think?
Harold R. Johnson: I really struggle with this idea of Indigenous law. I’m from Northern Saskatchewan, I’m Woods Cree, and my understanding of our tradition is we have no law. Law is this thing that the Europeans brought here. Law is about the rules made by the tyrant, and we never had any tyrants. So we never had any rules that we could call law. We had a way of living together, a way that worked. It was ecological – it changed over time. We adapted. The best story I’ve got that explains how we dealt with things, let’s take the most atrocious crime that we think of as humans, and that would be murder. So if someone murdered my brother, there’s four options that I have.
The lowest form would be to go and murder that person back. Second, would be to do nothing; maybe my brother was an asshole and he deserved it. Third, would be to ask for gifts that the person who killed my brother should pay. So a tepee, a horse, a dog-team, a pile of buffalo robes. But the highest form that I could take would be to take the person who murdered my brother and adopt him as my brother. And he could take my brother’s place, and he’d be responsible for my brother’s children and my brother’s wife. And I really don’t believe that we had anything like law or anybody to enforce it.
We had [sumagonists 00:37:10]; sumagonists walked alone, carried a whip, and if he came to your community, you put your head down because you should be ashamed that he had to come visit you. They were in existence until the RCMP arrived, and the family of one of the last sumagonists, his children told me that their father said the hardest thing he had to do was to go into a community and whip a man who’d been having sex with his own children. And there were some stories about how you – to become a sumagonist, one of the things was you’d go into a Muskeg on the longest day of the year and stay there from sunset to sunrise, not wearing any clothes, holding onto two stakes. And of course, in a Muskeg in the summertime, there’s going to be mosquitos and you weren’t to flinch.
And it taught the sumagonist how to take a thousand little bites. There was a lot more to it – that’s just one story, one example of how they became.
Brad Regehr: We’re almost out of time; I want to ask you about what gives you hope for the future?
Harold R. Johnson: Land-based healing. A friend of mine set up a program called Camp Hope out at Montreal Lake, and healing whole families, taking them out onto the land. And traditional 28 day treatment programs have success rates between two percent and five percent. Two percent for the treatment centres we send our people to, five percent if you spend thousands dollars a week and go to places like Vancouver. Camp Hope, taking people onto the land, had a success rate in the high 70 percent range. And he told me that sometimes when he brings people back at the end of the day, they’d be crying. They’d say I’m an Indian, but I never set a fishnet before. I’m an Indian but I never set a rabbit snare.
So taking people out onto the land, connecting them. Give them their identity back – I am Indian. And it also gave them a sense of belonging – I belong here. I belong on this land. And when you have your identity and a place to belong, you can begin to heal. So if we’re going to go forward with the justice system, and it’s not going to go away just because Harold Johnson is really upset about it, maybe we can marry the two. Instead of sending people to jail, let’s send them to bush camps, reconnect them to the land. Give them their identity back. Give them a sense of belonging.
What I learnt in the justice system is that people respond when you give a shit about them. Just show them that you care a little bit, and people would respond. An objective professional attitude, it drives people away. So if I’m going to tell anything to lawyers in the profession, or coming into the profession, learn to give a shit. Learn to care. You can do some good.
Brad Regehr: Stacey, I’m going to give the last word to you. What gives you hope?
Stacey Soldier: What gives me hope when I see the students that I’ve had at the Faculty of Law in the last few years, who have taken my class. When I’ve been invited to speak at high schools. I took part in a Living Library in one of the local school divisions with Grade 6 students. And so one of the things that really gives me so much hope is how knowledgeable these young adults at the law school, and certainly these kids in high school, and in elementary school – just how knowledgeable they are about First Nations’ issues. About the Indigenous history in our country, and the truth with respect to Residential schools.
They just – they just have this knowledge about it and this understanding that, looking back to me being in law school, or even in my education growing up – that information wasn’t provided. And in law school as well, there’s a lot of interest in taking the class, the seminar that I taught as well as the class that I’m in – I find my students just are so incredibly engaged and so knowledgeable. So it’s when we break down the barriers and we do things like read and listen and attempt to incorporate the calls to action, that’s when we start seeing those underlying issues. We start seeing the different perspectives and move forward in a positive way.
And so one of the things that I told the seminar the first day and the last day, is that when we know better, we do better. And so not just with us personally, but the people around us, within our practice.
Brad Regehr: I want to say a big thank you to both of you for giving of yourselves today, for sharing your insights, your wisdom, your personal stories – this is a very difficult subject area. It has to be talked about. I know it may make people uncomfortable, but unless we talk about things, nothing’s going to change. So again, I want to thank you both, from the bottom of my heart, for joining here today.
Harold R. Johnson: Thank you for having us.
Stacey Soldier: Thank you for having me.
Brad Regehr: In this episode I have been talking with Stacey Soldier, a lawyer with Cochrane Saxberg Barristers and Solicitors in Winnipeg, and Harold Johnson, a former Saskatchewan Crown Prosecutor and author of several books. Thank you for listening. We want to hear your stories about your experience as an Indigenous person with a legal profession, as a practitioner, as a student, or as an academic. Let us know on Twitter at @CBA_news, on Facebook and on Instagram at @Canadian Bar Association.
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