The Mohawk band council of Akwesasne in Canada has introduced its own legal system independent of the country’s federal system. This marks the first instance [Coast Reporter report] of an indigenous people creating its own legal system in Canada. While First Nation band councils have passed and enforced legislation on reserves for years, the new court framework was drafted by the community [National Post report] and is not tied to the Indian Act [text] or a self-governance agreement with the Canadian government. Under the proposed legal system, justices and prosecutors are asked to enforce a variety of civil laws, while criminal matters still remain within the purview of the federal or provincial courts. The civil matters range from sanitation to property and wildlife conservation. The new system is also underpinned by concepts of restorative justice, as there are no jail terms and offending parties are to use their skills to benefit the community. Questions still remain as to what extent Akwesasne law will be recognized by the provincial and federal courts.
The rights of indigenous peoples have become a pressing international legal topic in the past decade. In April JURIST Guest Columnist Dwight Newman of the University of Saskatchewan discussed [JURIST op-ed] what is happening with recent leave decisions related to Indigenous rights and Canadian energy regulation. In March Canadian indigenous people, including Inuits of Nunavut and the Chippewa, were granted [JURIST report] an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, challenging the use of seismic testing to find natural gas under the Davis Strait and Baffin Bay. In February experts from the UN and the Inter-American human rights systems urged [JURIST report] Canada to address the “root causes” of the extreme violence and discrimination against indigenous women and girls in that country..