Michael Coyle

Document Type



It is the author's position that for too long the study of "Indian law" in Canada has meant the study of law imposed upon Canadian Indians. It is suggested that the study of the indigenous law ways of Ontario's native Indians has been wrongly neglected This is so not merely because of the historical interest of the subject to Indians and non-Indians alike, but also because the study of traditional law ways provides an opportunity for modem native communities to understand the historical continuity of local responsibility for justice among natives and to build upon that tradition in assuming more responsibility for the administration of justice in native communities today. The approach of this paper is threefold. Its starting point is a review of recent studies which indicate that native men and women are dramatically over-represented in the province's prison system, particularly for minor offences. The paper then investigates the historical evidence that social mechanisms existed in traditional lroquois and Cree-Ojibwa societies in Ontario that performed the functions of a justice system in those societies before Euro-Canadian law was imposed on them. Next, the author considers whether, and to what extent, traditional native approaches to conflict resolution in Ontario are in accord with modern Canadian criminal justice policy. Concluding that the values which inspired traditional native justice ways and current criminal policy are indeed compatible, the author proposes that native communities in Ontario be encouraged to rediscover the value of their justice traditions and presents concrete examples of the sorts of current Canadian justice initiatives which seem to offer particular hope for the future.