Muhammad Asadullah

‘Decolonization and Justice: An Introductory Overview’ emerged from the undergraduate students’ final assignment in JS-419 on Advanced Seminar in Criminal Justice at the University of Regina’s Department of Justice Studies, Canada. This book focused on decolonization of multiple justice-related areas, such as policing, the court system, prison, restorative justice, and the studies of law and criminology. This is quite likely one of the few student-led book projects in Canada covering the range of decolonization topics. Ten student authors explored the concept of decolonization in law, policing, prison, court, mental health, transitional justice and restorative justice. We are grateful to receive funding support from the University of Regina’s OER Publishing Program Small Project Grant, which enabled us to hire a professional copy editor for the book.

The chapters in this book are organized under three major thematic areas. The first of these is Decolonization and Post Colonial Criminologies where the authors explore the theoretical aspects of the knowledge tradition and how indigenous legal traditions play an important role within this tradition.

Noor Shawush, in her chapter “Decolonizing the Land: Revitalizing Indigenous Legal Traditions”, explores the influence of the natural world on the development of Indigenous legal traditions. Her investigations elucidate decolonization by looking at how it has impacted Indigenous laws. In so doing, she brings forth the crucial role language and ceremonies play in this regard. As opposed to the Western legal traditions, there was never any need for the Indigenous legal traditions to be written down. Settler colonialism eroded the practice of many legal traditions and placed Indigenous groups in new lands, forcing them to leave the environment on which their legal traditions, knowledge and language were sourced. This was done by displacing Indigenous peoples from their traditional lands and limiting their access to resources.

In her chapter entitled “Decolonization and Criminology: An Analysis of Knowledge Production”, Charmine Cortez argues that the discipline of criminology in the settler-colonial State has been affected by the current systems of oppression that criminalize certain groups. She also reflects on the powerful ideological ramifications of the current criminological structure and the harm it causes to marginalized communities through the Western Justice System. Therefore, decolonization can occur in a variety of disciplines and settings, such as the Criminal Justice System, which consists of the police, courts, and corrections. She contends that these institutions harbour settler-colonial sentiment and ideologies through structures that generate cycles of harm by perpetuating inequalities amongst Indigenous people and other marginalized communities. Mainstream criminology maintains the relations of internalized colonialism and the political economy of criminalization by avoiding the socio-historical critique.

Geena Holding explores the impact of colonialism on court systems and their potential for decolonization in the chapter on “Justice For All: Decolonizing Courts Through Indigenous Justice”. The lack of culturally appropriate sentencing processes and alternatives became clear with the implementation of several landmark developments. For example, in Canada, Gladue reports led to the creation of First Nations Courts (FNCs) and programs that are designed by Indigenous peoples to provide a culturally appropriate alternative form of dispute resolution. The Tsuu T’ina Peacemakers Court was established in 2000 and was the first of its kind in Canada. It integrated the Alberta Provincial Court with the Tsuu T’ina Nation community and justice traditions.

In the second section of the book entitled Emerging Praxes around the Globe, four authors present case studies of innovative and emerging practices of post-colonial criminologies both in post-conflict areas and advanced democracies like Canada.

Megan Korchak provides an overview of the colonial aspects of the correctional system, prisons and how they impact marginalized groups in her chapter “Decolonizing Prison: A Framework and Practices for Revisioning Incarceration”. She demonstrates that the way that Indigenous people are processed and handled within the justice system amplifies existing personal trauma and issues of injustice and leads to longer and harsher sentences. Indigenous families living on reserves are often hundreds of kilometres away from the prison and therefore have limited access to loved ones. This practice of incarceration splits up a disproportionate number of Indigenous families which creates trauma that can be deeply damaging to the entire family. She uses Asadullah’s decolonization tree framework to suggest innovative practices. The framework emphasizes the action of consultation, interconnectedness, and traditional wisdom while attempting to do no further harm. She further speaks to the healing lodges in Canada as an alternative to a traditional prison. They create a path towards healing in a way that is culturally relevant and thus promotes empowerment and Indigenous sovereignty.

Kudzai Mudyara, in the chapter on “Policing and the Courts Through the Looking Glass: The Road to Transitional Justice and Decolonization in Zimbabwe”, examines the influence of colonization on the Zimbabwean justice system using decolonization as a method for identifying and resolving the post-independence legacies. Before colonization, Zimbabwe had a structured policing system in place. Policing was informed by the African value system, which embodied the age-old precepts of hunhu/ubuntu. This system was destroyed and replaced by the British South Africa Company Police that came into existence during colonial rule. She uses micro and macro decolonization framework to suggest ways to reverse the damage inflicted by the colonial practices. Further, her chapter discusses several emerging praxes such as the Baraza Justice in the Democratic Republic of Congo as a method for fighting the corruption in the police, magistrates, impunity, favouritism, and a law system that does not accord equal rights to the poor. Many African countries that have reverted to their customary laws have taken their heritage and tradition into consideration. For instance, the Himba people of Namibia continue to practice ancient traditions. The Namibian Constitution endorses traditional governance and customary law as an element of its legal system within a framework of the rights of indigenous groups in Namibia.

Nicola Kimber addresses Canada’s experience with Indigenous justice in her chapter entitled “Duty to Decolonize: Trauma in Canada” focusing on mental health issues facing Indigenous children, youth and adults. As many Indigenous peoples of Canada have experienced trauma whether personally or through familial history as a direct or indirect result of colonization, decolonization of Indigenous mental health is essential. Part of targeted trauma-informed practice includes acknowledging Indigenous perspectives. Among other case studies, she explores the Four Seasons Horse Teaching program. Established on Nekaneet First Nation territory, it is located at the federal Okimaw Ohci healing lodge in Saskatchewan. The program aims to rehabilitate offenders through physical, social, mental, emotional, and spiritual methods and practices; and is unique because it actively involves interacting with and caring for horses as part of the healing process.

Finally, in the Way Forward section, three chapters touch upon Indigenous self-governance, decolonizing policing and reconstructing Restorative Justice practices. The authors provide some useful and innovative recommendations.

In “Decolonizing Mental Health Services in Correctional Settings: Is Indigenous Self-Governance and Healing the Answer?” chapter Kayla Schick contends that psychology and correctional systems have been used as methods of assimilation throughout Canadian history. Canadian correctional institutions have an overpopulation of racial minorities and disproportionately high rates of mental illness. She speaks to multicultural family counselling in prisons, the Kunga Stopping Violence Program (KSVP), and Indigenous-operated healing lodges provide examples for decolonizing forensic mental health services at both the micro and macro levels. Such initiatives reflect a holistic approach that takes the family, history, and culture of each individual into account.

Stephanie Dyck discusses policing programs that offer a more comprehensive and culturally sensitive policing model that better reflect the communities in which they police in the chapter on “Decolonizing Policing: How Can It be Achieved?”. Police are the frontline of the justice system. Community-based policing programs work to restore and build trust between the community and the police. First Nations Policing has been conceptualized in many different regions to better serve the cultural and historical contexts of their Indigenous communities. Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, similar to Canada, all have Indigenous populations that face similar challenges within their respective justice systems. However, funding is one of the greatest challenges for these programs and service delivery. Jurisdiction problems remain problematic for these models as well. While self-administered policing is thought to give autonomy and self-governance to indigenous communities, the models continue to be restricted through excessive government control.

Jenna Smith in her chapter entitled “Decolonization Restoration: Reconstructing Restorative Justice Practices” explores decolonized restorative justice practices. The Production of ‘Cellfish’ and similar prison theatre programs include multiple practices that are considered restorative in nature. There have been many successes with community-based justice systems as well. A community-based justice program was implemented by Augustine Park in Red Deer, Canada which began in 2014 in response to an Indigenous community grieving children who died at residential schools. She concludes by noting that decolonization of restorative justice is possible for postcolonial societies but must be approached from a reasonable and structured decolonial framework.


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Decolonization and Justice: An Introductory Overview Copyright © 2022 by Muhammad Asadullah is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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