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Northern Cree Court Initiative

In northern Saskatchewan, a large number of community members are of Aboriginal descent (e.g., 90% of legal aid clients are Aboriginal) and speak an Aboriginal language as their first language. It has been suggested that the lack of effective communication between the court and Aboriginal clients has contributed to the alienation of members of northern Aboriginal communities from the administration of justice. In 1996, Judge Claude Fafard conceptualized the idea of a “Cree Court” in which Aboriginal residents of northern communities would be provided an alternative that addressed the considerable language barriers between the Court and its participants. In 1999 this idea was formally proposed, and the Northern Cree Court Initiative was developed. Its purpose is to provide legal services to Cree-speaking clients in northern Saskatchewan in a culturally sensitive manner. A Cree-speaking Circuit Court Party was established in three locations (Sandy Bay, Big River and Pelican Narrows) in October 2001. This Party consists of a Cree-speaking judge, a Cree-speaking Crown prosecutor, a legal aid lawyer who is currently taking Cree language training, and two court clerks, one of whom is Cree-speaking. This Circuit Court Party travels to the three court points at scheduled intervals throughout each month to hold court. Recently, the Circuit Court Party was awarded the Premier’s Award of Excellence in the Public Service for its work in developing and operating a Cree-speaking provincial court. Over time, it is anticipated that the Northern Cree Circuit Court Initiative will serve to transform the delivery of justice services for northern Aboriginal communities through the increased application of alternative measures.

Kimberly Skakun

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