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Returning to the teachings: Exploring aboriginal justice

Ross, Rupert
June 4, 2015

Source: (1996) Toronto: Penguin Books.

As an Assistant Crown Attorney, Rupert Ross was seconded in 1992 to the Aboriginal Justice Directorate of Justice Canada. He spent the next three years traveling across Canada to explore aboriginal approaches to justice and the traditional culture behind them. He found that teaching and healing are cornerstones of aboriginal thought and justice. That is, central to aboriginal thought and justice is the view that wrongdoing is misbehavior requiring teaching or illness requiring healing. This contrasts with a common perspective in Western justice that the wrongdoer is a bad individual who must therefore be punished. Based on his experience, Ross carefully nuances the nature of aboriginal justice and his argument on behalf of it. In traditional justice, healing was not necessarily effective with everyone, and in extreme cases banishment from the community was an option; yet, it does not make sense to offer healing to no one and to rely entirely on deterrence and jail instead. Traditional justice in response to dangerous individuals could involve elements of pain and punition, but infliction of pain merely for the sake of punishment is considered counterproductive to individuals and communities – and out of step with the main directions of traditional justice on teaching and healing. Justice as healing is not at this point in time the central goal of every aboriginal community in responding to wrongdoing; many communities still evidence the punitive emphasis of Western law and colonization in their local criminal justice systems. Yet, Ross endorses the purposes and practices of aboriginal justice in terms of teaching and healing of all parties involved to restore individuals, families, and communities.


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