Aboriginal youth are charting a new course in relations between the justice system and the communities in which they live.
In 2016, the Feathers of Hope First Nations youth forum released their report, Justice and Juries—A First Nations Youth Action Plan for Justice. In it they shared a vision of justice that was respectful of their culture and traditions. It offered recommendations on how to improve the historically negative relationship between the justice system and Indigenous people. Among their recommendations, they identified justice education as a key activity toward realizing this goal. They named OJEN as an organization that could help them achieve it.
Aboriginal Youth Designing a Better Justice System, responded directly to recommendations from this report, a collaboration with the Winkler Institute for Dispute Resolution (Winkler Institute), and Justice for Children and Youth (JFCY) with assistance from the Ontario Child Advocate. Funded by the Law Foundation of Ontario, the project provided support to Indigenous youth to explore ways technology could be utilized to address justice issues of their choosing.
A Combination of Indigenous Culture and Leading Edge Innovation
In August 2017, 30 Indigenous young people from communities throughout Ontario came together in Thunder Bay for three days of intensive problem-solving and creative collaboration. Many of the youth travelled from remote northern communities. For some, it was the first time they had left home. They worked side by side with Indigenous youth from southern communities. Each participant brought a wealth of lived experience and a strong passion for making change. Conference participants took up the challenge – could technology improve the relationship between Indigenous youth and police?
The program opened with an elder sharing the Seven Grandfathers Teachings. These teachings became the lens through which youth visualized the ideal relationships they sought to create with police and others in the justice system.
Throughout the conference, a design thinking expert from the Winkler Institute guided them through the design thinking process – examining the underlying issues, reframing the problems, brainstorming solutions and finally, designing technology prototypes.
Youth took the recommendations from the Feathers of Hope Justice and Juries report as their starting point. With this as their focus, they imagined positive solutions to some of the negative real-life police interactions they and their communities had experienced. These solutions became the basis for their technology designs. Throughout the process, a graphic recorder captured these ideas in visual form as an ongoing reminder for the participants.
Dynamic Process Yields Remarkable Results
Their commitment and hard work was rewarded with remarkable results. By the end of the conference, the youth participants had developed prototypes of three innovative digital products:
- MEETYOURCOP.CA – a website that promotes the development of positive relationships among police, youth and their communities by matching youth and police based on shared interests and opportunities to meet at community events;
- PEACE OFFICER – a mobile app that allows youth to become acquainted with and share feedback with police officers in their community;
- SHIELD YOUR RIGHTS – an educational digital game that incorporates cultural traditions in a quest to learn about legal rights.
Looking forward, the youth participants are eager to see their ideas become reality. The partner organizations are currently seeking funding opportunities to allow these youth to continue prototype development.
“I learned a great deal of things. One in particular is that we as Indigenous youth are leading and shaping the way we interact with our environment as well as with the people in this environment.” — Youth Participant
Read more about Aboriginal Youth Designing a Better Justice System, read the white paper on the project, published by the Winkler Institute.