Canadian Anthropology Society (CASCA)
Association for Political and Legal Anthropology
Cosponsored - Oral Presentation Session
Abstract: It is an open question whether state institutions and legal/public processes can properly serve the interests of Indigenous peoples, and is commonly answered in the negative by social scientists. But following from this position, the relevant questions are why and when do these institutions fail and are there remedies? If so, are social science methods capable of determining what the remedies might be? To answer these questions, panel members present research which foregrounds ethnographic and other research from North and South America. Examples arise from studies of the British Columbia human rights tribunal, treaty processes, Brazilian jails, in reconciliation processes, and in treaty and resource negotiations, among others. Research with indigenous people in prisons in Roraima state, Brazil, for example, reveals intercultural misunderstandings in tribunals, where the national penal code is used by law operators to judge societies with different cultural values, often imposing sentences which are not understood by indigenous people. The creation of indigenous internal regiments, in written form, by the Indigenous Council of Roraima (CIR), despite many difficulties involved, is proving to be one way of resolving many cases within the communities to avoid sending indigenous people to jail, with alternative punishments which are contemplated in national and international legislation. Indigenous people in British Columbia face related problems in accessing and using the Human Rights Tribunal to address discrimination in hiring, access to services and other areas of life. Changes in rules of testimony and cross examination, document sharing, and time limits to enter the process can produce signficiant change. But Indigenous justice institutions themselves may provide more relief.