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In 2011, Elders composing the USCLAS Board brought forward their concerns with the overrepresentation of Indigenous individuals in the provincial prison system. In rural and remote communities scattered throughout the Upper Skeena region, Indigenous individuals face challenges different from those in urban centres with lower level crimes easily compounding into frequent and longer imprisonment and dislocation from communities. Recognizing this danger, USCLAS Board members sought a response that promoted Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en laws and provided a restorative solution for Indigenous individuals coming through the Court and the affected communities.
Through tireless advocacy work, partnerships emerged between USCLAS and the Attorney General of British Columbia, Court Services, Community Corrections, Crown Counsel, Unlocking Aboriginal Justice, Carrier-Sekani Family Services, Parent’s Legal Center, Victim Services, and other local lawyers. These partnerships resulted in the creation of the Hazelton Indigenous Court Council. Individuals from these organizations worked together with articling students and Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en Elders to research, write proposals, and train in subjects including trauma-informed responses, lateral violence, and FASD. This work culminated in the first sitting of the Hazelton Indigenous Court at the Erwin Stege Community Centre in New Hazelton.
While facing delays due to COVID-19 and the heatwave of June 2021, the Hazelton Indigenous Court held its opening ceremony in March 2022 and later screened to a gathering in September 2022 when it was safer for people to gather. The establishment of the Hazelton Indigenous Court is a testament to the perseverance and passion of volunteers wanting to tackle the impacts of colonialism and intergenerational trauma on Indigenous Peoples.