A lawless life, unrest and strife? : the existence of Aboriginal customary law in Manitoba First Nations communities : an exploratory study

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Cormier, E. Frank
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The literature dealing with traditional methods of dispute resolution indicate that increasing support is found for the contention that the application of customary law in First Nations communities is the most promising route to improving upon the current dismal relationship between First Nations peoples and the Canadian criminal justice system. There is, however, a lack of information regarding the current state of knowledge of - and belief in - customary law. This is compounded by a lack of clear descriptions of its content. This research is intended to address these questions through an examination of current attitudes of First Nations peoples in Manitoba toward customary law. Data were collected through interviews conducted in the member-communities of the West Region Tribal Council. Respondents were asked to describe what they believed to be the most appropriate response to several detailed hypothetical instances of deviance. Respondents were drawn from three age groups: "older" (56 years and over), "middle aged" (36-55 years), and "young" (18-35 years). Analysis of the data showed that the three age groups applied three differing methodologies for responding to deviant acts. The "older" group displayed a "community focus", the middle aged group a "family focus" or "mixed focus", and the young group a "state focused" approach to deviance-response. Analysis of the content of customary law shows that context, restoration, prevention, publicity, group decision-making, and apology/forgiveness are its central elements. Belief in customary methods of dispute resolution remains strong among the older respondents. It is concluded that while the application of customary law is a viable and desirable option for justice initiatives in the future, caution must be exercised in the design of any such programs to ensure recognition of the complexity of this issue.-