Siksika Nation, in partnership with Calgary area law firm Mincher Koeman LLP, announced the creation of Canada's first ever First Nation bylaw prosecutor's office. Siksika Nation Councillor Samuel Crowfoot says it is a huge step for Siksika Nation in exercising its sovereignty.
"It's an integral part of how we function as a society, so the fact that we have a prosecutor prosecuting Siksika Nation bylaws beholden to the values and traditions of Siksika nation, and not necessarily the colonial crown system is huge. Anytime a First Nation can take services and employ them and distribute them in an effective manner is decolonization action. That's why it's so important here today because we are a First Nation government and we are on par with Canada, United States, the province, and any other municipality or government out there. It only makes sense that we would enforce our own bylaws, that we provide our own prosecutors and eventually have our own tribal judges, our own tribal court, and our own tribal justice system because that's what governments do. They protect and enforce the people and the laws and the borders and the environment. And that's just a natural course of what we're doing here," Crowfoot said.
Not only is this historic for Siksika Nation, but it's also historic for Canada, as Crowfoot said he believes this is the first prosecutor's office in a Canadian First Nation. Crowfoot has legal experience in several First Nations in the United States, and he explained that Siksika will try to adopt pieces of that model and fit it to their Nation. He added the Indian Act already allows for the creation of by-laws, but without enforcement, it's not effective.
"If you have bylaws that you can pass, then why don't you have someone to prosecute those? If you have bylaws that you can enforce and put onto the books, then why isn't there someone to prosecute that?"
As for what bylaws would be enforced, Crowfoot explained one of the big ones is trespassing, as he said a lot of Siksika community members have called in about non-Nation members patrolling streets late at night, and non-Nations cars taking children from the reserve and bringing them into Calgary. Other bylaws could include banishment by law, as Crowfoot explained it's an integral part of government to be able to exclude people from their lands.
Crowfoot added it isn't a novel concept for a municipality to have its own prosecutor's office, and the power to enforce its own laws is crucial to exercising its sovereignty and independence.
"If you come to Siksika Nation, if you choose to live, if you choose to do business, if you choose to visit, you have to respect our laws and that is not something that is out of the question. People should not be balking at that idea, because it's the same when we go to Calgary, it's the same when we go to the United States. It's the same when we go to Saskatchewan, to British Columbia, right?"
The potential provincial and national impact
Siksika Nation Chief Ouray Crowfoot explained in the past the Nation had trouble enforcing its own bylaws because the RCMP wouldn't enforce laws that aren't provincial. With the prosecutor's office now in place, there will be a new set of enforceable bylaws in Alberta that you'll have to respect when in Siksika Nation.
"You got that argument: 'is it provincial? Is it federal?' We don't have to be in an argument anymore. We're going to have our own prosecutors prosecuting Siksika bylaws. So it's all part of that justice framework that we're creating here at Siksika," Chief Crowfoot said
With Siksika Nation being the first to establish its own prosecutor's office, Councillor Crowfoot hopes they can establish a standard that First Nations across Canada can follow.
"I hope other nations see this, I hope they follow suit. Our laws are going to be posted at First Nations Gazette and I hope people take them and tell them to their specific community. We need to have this type of model employed all across the country. Everything sacred to the First Nation people has been taken away from our language, our religion, our children, and our culture. We need now to start claiming pieces of those things back. The one way that we can enforce and protect our cultures is have our own bylaws. I think every nation should be passing their own bylaws. I think every nation should be having their own prosecutor. I think every nation should have their own police force or have agreements in place to make sure that their definition of justice is being protected," Councillor Crowfoot said.
Several Siksika Elders were in attendance at today's conference, and the importance of Siksika Nation's continued growth and independence was highlighted by the Elder who spoke after the announcement.
"What I'm seeing in the last few years of where the nation's going is really encouraging to me to my children, to my grandchildren, because I look at things strategically. And I think we're on the right course, we're developing things now with this prosecuting office. I'm really excited about the things that are happening and where our leadership is leading us,' Elder Brian Little Chief said.
"It's time we take ownership of who we are because we are of this land. This is our land, this is our territory, and to take ownership of it means that we really belong in one area and we should preserve that," Elder Spike Eagle Speaker said.
As for the prosecutors themselves, Andrew Koeman and Lynsey Mincher from Micher Koeman LLP said they're honored to be a part of such a historic moment, and will work hard to properly enforce Siksika values. During today's conference, Koeman and Mincher both took part in a smudging ceremony as well.
"I can't tell you how proud and honored we are to be part of this historic moment. Not just in the history of Siksika Nation, but in Canadian history. The ability of First Nations to enforce their laws and bylaws on their lands is critical to the inherent rights and ability to exercise self-determination and self government. We have worked closely with Siksika Nation for a number of years and we have seen that the creation of Siksika Nation's own bylaw prosecution, the first of its kind in Canada, is crucial and will further the jurisdictional right of Siksika Nation to enforce their own laws, keeping Siksika culture and values at the forefront," Mincher said.