On October 28, Andrew Koeman and Lynsey Mincher of Mincher Koeman were sworn in as the first by-law prosecutors for Siksika First Nation in Alberta. This arrangement, in which the firm will enforce the First Nation’s by-laws in provincial court, represents the creation of the first Indigenous By-Law Prosecutor’s Office in Canada.
Located an hour east of Calgary, Siksika Nation is the second-largest First Nation in Canada, with a population of over 7,800 people. It is one of four Indigenous Nations that make up the Blackfoot Confederacy (Siksikaitsitapi), which includes the Siksika (Blackfoot), the Kainai (Many Chiefs), the Apatohsipiikani (Northern Peigan), and the Amsskapipiikani (Southern Peigan).
In tandem with the First Nation’s recently-reinstated police service, the By-Law Prosecutor’s Office is an important element in exercising the nation’s sovereign rights. As expressed by Chief Ouray Crowfoot in the First Nation’s October 18 press release:
“Typically, Prosecutors have represented the Crown in criminal cases; however, in an exercise of its inherent and sovereign authority, Siksika has established a prosecutor’s office that will litigate and enforce Siksika’s by-laws in Provincial Courts thereby making anyone who chooses to enter our lands subject to the Nation’s authority and laws as passed by our legislative body – Chief and Council. The establishment of a By-law Prosecutor’s office keeps Siksika culture and values at the forefront and not simply adopting Provincial or Federal laws in place of our own.”
Section 81 of the Indian Act empowers First Nations (or bands) to make on-reserve by-laws regarding a variety of matters, including:
First Nation by-laws can impose a fine of up to $1,000 or 30 days’ imprisonment for those who are convicted of violating the by-law.
Although the Indian Act allows First Nations to make on-reserve by-laws, it is silent on what level of government is ultimately responsible for their enforcement. This can discourage outside police forces from intervening in by-law violations out of the concern that no entity will accept responsibility for prosecuting the charges. Failing to enforce community by-laws can create substantial public safety risks arising from unmitigated crime or unfollowed pandemic restrictions.
As stated by Mincher Koeman Partner Lynsey Mincher to the CBC:
“[The by-laws] have not been prosecuted by the federal government, they’ve not been prosecuted by the provincial government, and so this is the opportunity to truly assist Siksika in their journey for self-government and self-determination.”
In September of this year, the Siksika First Nation police service was reinstated by the Alberta and federal governments after 20 years. Chief Ouray Crowfoot explained to the CBC that the First Nation’s police service is crucial for fostering a sense of community and deterring crime:
“Not seeing the police as an enemy, not seeing the police as them, but seeing the police as one of us – I know that Siksika is going to be a safer place.”
Mincher Koeman is committed to visiting the First Nation weekly to discuss priorities with community representatives and elders. The firm will also assist in training peace officers in bylaw enforcement and developing options for resolution.
The swearing-in of Siksika First Nation’s first by-law prosecutors took place on First Nation grounds at Old Sun College. Lynsey Mincher and Andrew Koeman of Mincher Koeman were sworn in by Chief Ouray Crowfoot and engaged in a smudging ceremony.
As part of the Prosecutor Oath of Office, Lynsey Mincher and Andrew Koeman committed to performing their role in a culturally appropriate and sensitive manner, recognizing the Nation’s Indigenous culture and traditions. The prosecutors further swore to recognize:
“the inherent jurisdiction of Siksika Nation who have, through time immemorial and to this day, inhabited their original ootawahsin (lands and territory) and lived in accordance with their unique and distinct identity, culture, and way of life.”
The Indigenous law team at Mincher Koeman feels honoured to work with Alberta’s Indigenous and First Nations communities. As stated by Lynsey Mincher to the CBC, the firm’s work as by-law prosecutors will “enable Siksika and other nations to truly forge their own identity, to truly take a path toward reconciliation that should’ve been done a long time ago.”
Mincher Koeman is dedicated to helping our Indigenous clients evolve Canadian law to align with present-day values. Our skilled Calgary lawyers provide creative legal solutions in a variety of Indigenous legal matters, including child protection, guardianship, kinship, intervenor applications, funding and grants, and more. To discuss your case with a member of our knowledgeable team, please contact us online or call 403-910-3000.
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