Ontario Court of Justice Presentation Dr Stewart Jan 15.2014Presentation Transcript
Ontario Court of Justice, Judicial Development Institute
15 January 2014
Walking the line between Western
and Indigenous community ethics:
Systemic biases against Aboriginal
Peoples in family court
Dr. Suzanne L. Stewart, PhD, C.Psych
Applied Psychology & Human Development
OISE/University of Toronto
Two main reasons why the Ontario Justice system
should learn about Indigenous cultures:
1) Aboriginal conceptions of the world,
including psychology, parenting, and
social behaviors, differ from western
worldviews in major ways
2) There is an over-representation of
Aboriginal children and families in the child
1. Differences in identity &
• Collectivist orientation
• Non linear perspective
• Time orientation (general)
• Oneness with nature
• Holistic: spiritual, physical,
• Health/wellness focus
• Individualist orientation
• Linear perspective
• Time orientation (specific)
• Humans against nature;
• Dualism: Cartesian split
• Illness/disease focus
Indigenous paradigm & Western paradigm
The extent of these differences in
worldviews indicates that child welfare
and judiciary process should be
reconsidered in order to incorporate
Indigenous conceptions of ethics,
families, parenting, ethics, and social
behaviors. (Blackstock, & Trocme 2005; Bennett & Blackstock, 2002).
There is a need for more systemic exploration of
Indigenous approaches and practices to child
welfare and ethical legal decision making in
family court that are seen to be successful in
today’s communities, because most currently
existing research and legal decisions focus on
the problems (from the western paradigm) and
not the health and healing strengths and
solutions (from an Indigenous paradigm).
HEALTH IS A POLITICAL
CONSTRUCT, NOT A BIOLOGICAL
OR TECHNICAL PROCESS
(Shah & Stewart, 2010)
In 2006, about 160,000 First Nations peoples in Ontario—23% of
Canadian First Nations population (Statistics Canada, 2006 Census)
– 1.3% of the population in Ontario First Nations children (aged zero to 19)
constituted 2% of the child population in Ontario; an additional 1% of the child
population was non-First Nations Aboriginal (Statistics Canada, 2006 Census).
Aboriginal children comprise 3% of the overall child population in
21% of all provincial Crown Wards are Aboriginal (Ontario Ministry
of Children and Youth Services, 2010a; Statistics Canada, 2006
(Kozlowski, Sinha, & Richard 2011)
The impact of colonization practices (historical
and current) on Indigenous health and family
functioning across Canada has been summed
up by as the destruction and discontinuity of
the structure of community and family, and
the transmission of traditional knowledge and
values, such as an Indigenous paradigm of
health and wellness (Kirmayer et al. (2000).
• In Canada, this has involved various processes (from
1492 to present) including cultural assimilation tactics to
destroy Native cultural identity & community by enforced
Federal and Provincial government legislation through:
– relocation from traditional lands and confinement to reserves
– Parents and children (through many generations) suffering
prolonged separation from family, culture, and traditional lands
by forced placement in residential schools
– Forced adoption (Sixties Scoop), crown wardships, child welfare
laws and “reform” that historically and currently remove children
from Aboriginal families, communities, and culture
– loss of control of self and community governance, including
language, religion, land use, food sources, clan structure, etc.
i.e., colonial rule
– gradual involvement in national and global economics
– historic and continued political and social marginalization
– more efforts too numerous to itemize
(Kirmayer et al., 2000).
What is Residential School?
•Extensive school system
set up by the Canadian
What is Residential School?
• Primary objectives were to forcibly
– Remove and isolate children form the influence of
their homes, families and cultures
– To assimilate them into the dominant culture
“To kill the Indian in the child.”
Based on assumption that
Aboriginal cultural beliefs
and spirituality were inferior
and unequal to EuroCanadian Christian ones
• July 2008 Prime Minister Harper made an
official apology to Aboriginal peoples
• “Today we recognize that this policy of
assimilation was wrong, has caused great
harm, and has no place in our country.”
Residential School Facts
• About 150,000 Aboriginal children from 1870s to
• Min of 3000 children are known to have died,
500 are children whose identities are unknown
• Disease was major killer (tuberculosis, flu)
– Second to malnutrition, drowning, exposure
• Many victims of physical assualt and sexual
• Many died trying to run away or by suicide.
The legacy of colonization: social
determinants of health
As a result of colonial history, Aboriginal
peoples experience a broad range of
health issues, many of which lead
Aboriginal people to suffer from among
the poorest health levels in the country.
• The mental health implications of this colonial
history for communities and individuals include
high rates (compared to non-Aboriginal pops.)
– Grief and loss
– Family violence
– Substance abuse
– Sexual abuse
– And more
(Duran, 2006; Health Canada, First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, 2003 Kirmayer, et al., 2000;
Aboriginal peoples continue to live under colonial
When non-Aboriginal forms (i.e. Western) of
mental health care/education/law are used with
Aboriginal peoples this is considered oppressive
and further marginalizing because it denies
and de-legitimizes Indigenous ways of
knowing, learning, and being.
• What this cultural context means is that
Native peoples may view Western
professionals, including those within the
judiciary system, with mistrust due to past
or ongoing experiences of colonial trauma
Addressing this colonial history of racism
and bias today means making
Ethical Decision Making
There are five steps involved in making ethical decisions:
1. Understand the people involved and how the culture and
background has influenced their behaviour.
2. Assess the goals of the organisation and the participants and
determine the best way to achieve those goals and how
achieving those goals will improve the lives of the participants
and reduce their harm.
3. Assess the harm that the participants are experiencing, what
are the best interests of the participants.
4. Assess ways to minimize the harm.
5. Determine what can be done to minimize the harm and
produce positive outcomes.
Cultural Context: Aboriginal
Ethical principles are key when working
within members of Aboriginal
communities. This includes building
respectful and reciprocal relationships, as
well as adopting an Aboriginal paradigm of
health and healing to support Native
communities to more effectively deal with
their parenting, family, legal, and health
and healing issues.
Examples of Aboriginal Ethics
A. Seven Grandfather Teachings
B. Traditional Native Code of Ethics
A. Seven Grandfather Teachings
Among the Anishinaabe people, the Teachings of the Seven
Grandfathers, also known simply as either the Seven
Teachings or Seven Grandfathers, is a set of teachings on
human conduct towards others.
•According to the aadizookaan (traditional story), the teachings
were given to the Anishinaabeg early in their history. Seven
Grandfathers asked their messenger to take a survey of the
human condition. At that time the human condition was not very
good. Eventually in his quest, the messenger came across a
child. After receiving approval from the Seven Grandfathers,
tutored the child in the “Good way of Life”. Before departing from
the Seven Grandfathers, each of the Grandfathers instructed the
child with a principle.
Seven Grandfather Teachings
•Nibwaakaawin—Wisdom: To cherish knowledge is to know Wisdom. Wisdom is given by the
Creator to be used for the good of the people. In the Anishinaabe language, this word
expresses not only “wisdom,” but also means “prudence,” or “intelligence.” In some
communities, Gikendaasowin is used; in addition to “wisdom,” this word can also mean
“intelligence” or “knowledge.”
•Zaagi’idiwin—Love: To know Love is to know peace. Love must be unconditional. When
people are weak they need love the most. In the Anishinaabe language, this word with the
reciprocal theme /idi/ indicates that this form of love is mutual. In some communities,
Gizhaawenidiwin is used, which in most context means “jealousy” but in this context is
translated as either “love” or “zeal”. Again, the reciprocal theme /idi/ indicates that this form of
love is mutual.
•Minaadendamowin—Respect: To honor all creation is to have Respect. All of creation
should be treated with respect. You must give respect if you wish to be respected. Some
communities instead use Ozhibwaadenindiwin or Manazoonidiwin.
•Aakode’ewin—Bravery: Bravery is to face the foe with integrity. In the Anishinaabe
language, this word literally means “state of having a fearless heart.” To do what is right even
when the consequences are unpleasant. Some communities instead use either
Zoongadikiwin (“state of having a strong casing”) or Zoongide’ewin (“state of having a strong
•Gwayakwaadiziwin—Honesty: Honesty in facing a situation is to be brave. Always be honest
in word and action. Be honest first with yourself, and you will more easily be able to be honest
with others. In the Anishinaabe language, this word can also mean “righteousness.”
•Dabaadendiziwin—Humility: Humility is to know yourself as a sacred part of Creation. In the
Anishinaabe language, this word can also mean “compassion.” You are equal to others, but
you are not better. Some communities instead express this with Bekaadiziwin, which in
addition to “humility” can also be translated as “calmness,” “meekness,” “gentility” or
•Debwewin—Truth: Truth is to know all of these things. Speak the truth. Do not deceive
yourself or others.(
(Bouchard & Martin, 2009)
B. Traditional Native Code of Ethics
•• Give thanks to the Creator each morning upon rising and each evening
• Seek the courage and strength to be a better person.
• Showing respect is a basic law of life.
• Respect the wisdom of people in council.
• Once you give an idea it no longer belongs to you, it belongs to everyone.
• Be truthful at all times.
• Always treat your guests with honour and consideration.
• Give your best food and comfort to your guests.
• The hurt of one is the hurt of all.
• The honour of one is the honour of all.
• Receive strangers and outsiders kindly.
• All races are children of the Creator and must be respected.
• To serve others; to be of use to family, Community or nation is one of the
main purposes for which people are created.
• Observe moderation and balance in all things.
• Know and practice those things that lead to your wellbeing, and avoid those
that lead to your destruction.
• Listen to and follow the guidance given to your heart. Expect guidance to
come in many forms; in prayer, in dreams, in solitude and in the words and
actions of Elders and real friends.
Copley, J. (1987, August). Native Code of Ethics. Western Native News,
Family Court processes could be reconceptualized and practiced differently to
emphasize EMPOWERMENT rather than
• Aboriginal CULTURES, beginning at the
local level of community, must be
incorporated into all aspects of the judicial
system from values/ethics, language, to
science, to storytelling, to traditional
medicines and healing practices, to
Indigenous ways of knowing…which can
begin by educating the system about the
history and culture of Aboriginal peoples.
Considering these aspects of culture within
the ethical decision making process when
working with Aboriginal families…
We can work together to end systemic bias by
employing an Aboriginal worldview…
• Contemporary Aboriginal worldviews
fundamentally identify and embed Aboriginal
community participation in the development of
individual identities and perspectives within all
practices and CONSIDERING THE COLONIAL
CONTEXT, and is a multi-dimensional and
continuous process (Stewart, 2007, 2008, 2009).
In practice this may mean inviting local Aboriginal community
members into the court system context to help inform
decision making, work with the children or youth or parents,
or support the western trained professionals (lawyers,
judges, child welfare workers) in identifying important cultural
elements; to bring in local cultural knowledge that may
include spirituality, language, parenting, family, health,
healing, or values/principles.
It means holding a perspective that respects the colonial
history that individual children, youth, adults, families,
and communities may carry with them into the courtroom
and understanding the impact that history has on
mental health and family functioning for each person.
It means understanding that…
Healing for Aboriginal peoples is about
healing from the traumas of colonialism…
and in this context of families and mental
health, the child welfare system and
residential school are major sites of
• This understanding gives us all an
opportunity to create a new relationship
between Aboriginal peoples and western
institutions, such as the judicial system, to
end the trauma and begin the healing by
inviting Aboriginal culture and community
into Western judicial systems
To summarize: Important elements
in considering Aboriginal ethics
(Stewart 2009; Winselett et al, 2005)
Group Discussion and Closure
What did you find useful in this presentation?
What have you learned that will change how
you view and practice law? With Aboriginal
families? With all people?
Any questions or comments?
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