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If the answer is healing, how do we get there?

Photo Credit: Inset of ILSA Speaker Series 2022 Poster Artwork by Amanda Wagar

Tansi Nîtôtemtik, good morning everyone,

The word healing gets thrown around a lot. Like peace, love, and justice, it can become lost in a sea of terms that we say without thinking through. [1] The root of the English word to heal is: "to cure; save; make whole, sound and well." [2]

To make whole.

In Cree, there is a term ᒥᔪᒪᐦᒋᐦᐅᐃᐧᐣ miyomahcihowin that can be roughly translated as "good health, good feelings." [3]

In Japanese, there is a term 金繕い kintsukuroi or "golden repair" that describes a process of treating breakages as part of history that can transform and strengthen. [4]

Photo: stages of kintsukuroi [5]

Those ideas give me a little warm glow inside. I feel hopeful.

What are the words for healing and health in your languages? Do they include feelings as a core part of health? If a friend or cousin tells you that they are in good health, do you take it to mean they are whole, sound and well? How do your communities treat breakages in objects, or people?

Ideas and communication about health can make all the difference. Imagine trying to discuss tonsillitis, cancer, or anxiety without the words. That's hard enough in a shared language, let alone two different ones that include different ideas!

That's why a team at the Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre created a dictionary of terms that can help Cree and English speakers connect more when they talk about health together. [6]

So what about the justice system? Advocates talk about the idea of healing, too. In some Cree legal orders, "recognizing the fact that everyone lives in relationship provides a strong rationale behind the principle of healing as the predominant response to someone who [is] becoming, or at risk of becoming, harmful or dangerous to others."[7] In this approach, healing doesn't stand alone. It is considered in context along with safety, prevention, and other legal principles. [8]

Unfortunately, in the context of colonial justice systems pointed at Indigenous people, the idea of healing can be brought up as a simple salve.

The logic goes like this: someone is struggling and hurts someone else. Colonial measures like prison can make that struggle worse, not better. So the legal system becomes part of the problem. Instead, the answer is healing (or sometimes, traditional healing). [9] Now, prison often doesn't work. [10]

But if the answer is healing... what does healing really mean?

For many, healing is a central goal of an effective justice system. However, studies indicate that without proper funding and supports in place, alternative restorative justice programs have pursued healing at a high cost: increased violence against children and women. [11] The authors of one in-depth study of the justice system's inconsistent approach to reform and healing, and its impact on Indigenous women and children, remind us clearly what is at stake: "Children’s bodies need protecting as much as their culture." [12]

Healing can have positive results and it is heartening to see it prioritized. However, when Courts develop Indigenous Courts that emphasize Healing Programs, [13] or alternative dispute resolution is considered in the name of healing, close attention to the whole picture is required. We do ourselves a disservice when we assume that Indigenous people receive justice in Canada’s court since the word "justice" is in the justice system. Overwhelmingly, they do not. [14] Similarly, we also do ourselves a disservice when we assume that healing occurs just because the word "healing" is involved.

To respect and honour Indigenous minds and bodies, culture, and communities - to strive for meaningful healing - we need to go past the words to understand and experience what is really happening, and go from there.

It takes more than the word healing to make what's broken whole. And our legal system could use some healing.

And in the end, that is just one step towards healing the minds and bodies of all the individual people that make up society. Including the Indigenous minds and bodies disproportionately abused by the legal system Canada has imposed. [15]

That is why this week, we are talking about healing Indigenous minds and bodies and how that relates to the justice system. We are talking about what's not working, and about ways that many Indigenous leaders and communities are healing and creating justice for themselves.

Fortunately, there is a lot of good work underway. Like the Tsuu T'ina Peacemaking Court, the communities working with the Indigenous Law Research Unit and the Wahkohtowin Law and Governance Lodge and many more. [16]

(And, we hope you will join the Indigenous Law Students Association this Feb 28th - March 4th to hear some more about work underway at the 2022 Speaker Series Coming Home: Bringing Children, Laws, and Legal Traditions Back to Their Homefire.) [17]

Kinanâskomitin, thank you for reading and take care,

Hero and the ReconciliACTION team

[1] George Orwell, Politics and the English Language (April 1946), online: The Orwell Foundation <>.

[2] Online Etymology Dictionary, "heal (v.)" (2022), online: Online Etymology Dictionary <>.

[3] Nehiyaw Masinahikan Online Cree Dictionary, "miyomahcihowin" (undated), online: Online Cree Dictionary <>.

[4] Wikipedia, "Kintsugi" (January 12, 2022), online: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia <//>.

[5] Photo credit: Lifehoney, "About" (2022), online: LifeHoney <>.

[6] Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre, Cree Medical Dictionary: A Handbook for Health Care Providers (Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre, 2011).

[7] Hadley Louise Friedland, Reclaiming the Language of Law: The Contemporary Articulation and Application of Cree Legal Principles in Canada, A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Faculty of Law, University of Alberta (Hadley Louise Friedland, 2016) at 313 [Friedland].

[8] Ibid (same source as above) at 316-318.

[9] Ibid at 305, 315 for discussion and references for further reading.

[10] See for e.g. Gendreau, P. Goggin, C., & Cullen, F. T. (1999). The Effects of Prison Sentences on Recidivism. Ottawa: Solicitor General Canada and Michael Harris, "The price we pay for punishment" (December 20, 2016) online: iPolitics <>.

[11] Friedland, supra (above) note 7 at 316-318.

[12] Ibid at 314, quoting from Anne McGillivray and Brenda Comaskey, Black Eyes All of the Time: Intimate Violence, Aboriginal Women, and the Justice System (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999) at 137.

[13] Provincial Court of Alberta, "Calgary Indigenous Court" (2022), online: Alberta Courts <>.

[14] Brett Forester, "Justice Canada study finds own criminal courts stacked against Indigenous accused" (October 19, 2021), Atpn National News <>.

[15] See for e.g. Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (2019) online:. National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls <>.

[16] See for e.g. projects and partners connected to the Indigenous Law Research Unit, "About ILRU" (undated), online: The Indigenous Law Research Unit <> and the Wahkohtowin Law and Governance Lodge ("About"), online: University of Alberta <>. For a quick overview of the Tsuu T’ina Court and other initiatives, see Lily Maya Wang, "A Sensory Exploration of the Tsuu T’ina Court" (August 15, 2019), Law and the Senses online: <>.

[17] Indigenous Law Students Association, "Speaker Series 2022" (2021) The Indigenous Law Students Association online <>.

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