Jun 17/97: The Real Sentencing Circle


Mohawk Nation News (MNN). 17-JUN-97. The British Columbia judicial system is considering using the Native Sentencing Circle to deal with the 18 Sundance Defendants of the Gustafsen Lake Standoff with the RCMP that took place in the summer of 1995.

Regarding the sentencing circle, the traditional way of dealing with people who commit acts against the best interests of their people is to bring the person before their community. They must tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The worst crime in aboriginal communities is lying. All information is brought forward by all parties and is thoroughly discussed until everyone understands all of the issues. It is not a court where judges sit above in judgment. Everyone is equal and has an equal part in the learning process. It is a time for the community to learn from what happened. When everyone fully understands, the perpetrator then sincerely explains what they learned from what they did and what the community should learn from it as well. When all of this is fully understood, then the person sincerely expresses sorrow and the community forgives if it is called for. All the time necessary to bring everyone to the same understanding is taken. It is understanding of the issues, not agreement that is sought. If dicussions have reached a point where everyone is of one mind, which is the goal, then the matter is put in the past as part of the community's history. There is no punishment. The person is never set off as an individual but always remains as part of the community. Since they are part of the community then their transgressions or acts, good or bad, are that of the community. Therefore, the whole community is affected and this must be put right or all must benefit or all must feel remorse. Therefore, punishment which is meant to break the spirit of the person, known as "correction" will hurt the community.

In the case of Gustafsen, if the above criteria were followed for the sentencing by each and every person, it may turn out that the defendants will be congratulated for what they did for their people. However, the RCMP, jury people, Lyle James and defendants would have to agree to go into the sentencing discussions with the above understanding and state of mind.

- Kahn-Tineta Horn

Back to SIS