New bylaw prosecutor's office on Siksika Nation believed to be first of its kind in Canada
Chief and council members say office is integral part of bigger sovereignty picture
A Calgary-area law firm has been contracted to act as a bylaw prosecutor for Siksika Nation in an arrangement that's believed to be the first of its kind for Indigenous groups in Canada.
Mincher Koeman LLP — the firm associated with the agreement — will enforce Siksika's bylaws in provincial court, "making anyone who chooses to enter our lands subject to the nation's authority and laws as passed by our legislative body," Siksika Nation said in a news release on Wednesday.
According to Siksika Chief Ouray Crowfoot, establishing the prosecutor's office is part of filling the gaps in exercising the nation's sovereign rights.
"What's the point of having a bylaw if you don't have somebody to prosecute those bylaws? We're looking at getting all of our justice back," he said.
"We didn't have our policing — we went after our policing. We didn't have a prosecutor — we went after a prosecutor…whatever we're going to miss at Siksika, we're going to go after that."
Calls for Indigenous policing have increased over the years, with growing concerns over long response times. Crowfoot added that having their own police service will also deter crime and foster a greater sense of community.
In September, the nation reached a deal with the provincial and federal governments to reinstate their self-administered police service after 20 years.
"Not seeing the police as an enemy, not seeing the police as them, but seeing the police as one of us — I know that Siksika is going to be a safer place," Crowfoot said when the deal was announced.
"It's not just about getting our policing back, it's about creating that quality of life."
A starting point
Lynsey Mincher, a founding partner of Mincher Koeman LLP, said getting sworn in as prosecutors on Friday was only the beginning as they work to establish the office.
She said they will be coming out to Siksika Nation at least once a week to meet with elders, train peace officers on specific bylaws and determine what the nation wants in terms of priorities for bylaw enforcement and resolution.
"We're going to start building an office that allows them to prosecute their own bylaws because historically those have fallen by the way," said Mincher.
"They've not been prosecuted by the federal government, they've not been prosecuted by the provincial government, and so this is the opportunity to truly assist Siksika in their journey for self-government and self-determination."
She said arrangements like this, whereby a First Nation can prosecute its own laws, are more common the United States than in Canada.
"For us, this work truly will make a difference. It will enable Siksika and other nations to truly forge their own identity, to truly take a path toward reconciliation that should've been done a long time ago."
With files from Terri Trembath, Jo Horwood and The Canadian Press