Every One Counts: Examining Aboriginal Youth Incarceration by Gender, Statistics and Witsuwit'en Laws
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This dissertation examines the incarceration rates of Aboriginal youth in Canada as well as Witsuwit’en legal tradition regarding youth discipline. I explore Aboriginal youth incarceration rates, and examine regional differences and gender differences as well as obtain rich primary data from acknowledged Witsuwit’en knowledge keepers. Despite the abundance of materials on the over-incarceration rates of Aboriginal adult offenders, as documented in R. v. Gladue and R. v. Ipeelee, there is very little academic attention regarding over-incarceration rates of Aboriginal youth. However, the existing literature does point to the fact that the numbers of youth have dropped since the introduction of the Youth Criminal Justice Act (“YCJA”) but the Aboriginal youth rates are not dropping proportionately. There is an increasing over-representation of Aboriginal males, yet Aboriginal females in particular are worse off than other youth. Although this dissertation is not focussed primarily on the causation of Aboriginal youth detention, the secondary sources indicate a number of underlying reasons such as systemic discrimination, socio-economic factors, mental health and residential school impacts. The literature review indicates that Aboriginal youth over-incarceration is going to worsen over time. I have used an Indigenous methodology in my research which explores how Indigenous communities can develop, control and own the research. The Indigenous Legal Research Unit (“ILRU”) Method developed at the University of Victoria’s law school employs a case briefing model to examine the facts, issues, decisions and reasoning from Indigenous stories to develop an Indigenous legal framework. This ILRU method shows how Witsuwit’en stories were analyzed using the ILRU method. I also explore the reasons why statistics are in fact Indigenous. I compare and contrast the numbers of Aboriginal youth who are incarcerated across Canada by gender and Aboriginal status. This research employs a mixed methods approach drawing both from quantitative data from the statistics and qualitative data from conducting a focus group and three interviews with respect to Witsuwit’en legal traditions. This study obtains in-depth primary data from a Witsuwit’en perspective, which can provide solutions to the problem of Aboriginal youth incarceration rates. I discuss how the statistics gathered regarding youth under the YCJA are not developed with Indigenous communities and therefore are not Indigenous statistics. I argue that future research directions require creating a new approach in which Indigenous statistics can and should be developed in a respectful partnership with Indigenous communities. Although the Witsuwit’en laws and legal system are ontologically different from the YCJA, I argue that they can co-exist together when it comes to the common goal of how best to treat troubled youth. The Witsuwit’en laws are primarily used as a method of contrast with treatment of youth under the YCJA – how are troubled youth dealt with under Witsuwit’en governance as compared to under the YCJA legislation? It is anticipated that the results of this dissertation will add to the existing literature regarding the seriousness of Aboriginal youth over-incarceration rates. It also furthers the advancement of Indigenous Methodology and in particular the Indigenous Legal Research Unit Method. This research also adds to the existing body of knowledge of Witsuwit’en laws. Most importantly, these statistics represent someone’s son or daughter, grandson or granddaughter, sister or brother - these numbers of detained youth are important - everyone counts. Canada can do better and must do better to resolve this crisis in Indigenous youth over-representation.