Wet’suwet’en Unlocking Aboriginal Justice

Wet’suwet’en Unlocking Aboriginal Justice Program

In response to the general dissatisfaction of the Western Judicial System – the UAJ proposal was developed under the guidance and supervision of the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs and elders.   It was agreed that a joint submission by the Smithers Friendship Centre, Gitxsan Wet’suwet’en Education Society and the Upper Skeena Counseling and Legal Assistance Society in March 1989.

The process of the Justice system we have within the Traditional Territories is not a matter of creating a new system nor a hybrid approach, but a matter of program development based on our own laws and practices

We have drawn from our own experiences through work and continual learning.  The Western Justice System has been very successful in oppressing house groups and its members from applying traditional laws and practices when addressing members who find themselves in conflict with the western laws.   .  The ultimate responsibility for justice relies on all of us, as House Members, as Wet’suwet’en.

The Unlocking Aboriginal Justice Program was administered formally by GWES from 1989 – 1995.  From 1989 to 1992, there was a focus on research and development for the establishment of a UAJ Program.  Implementation began in 1992.  The UAJ program has been decentralized into each nation who have overseen two separate restorative justice programs unique to the specific needs of its people:

Gitxsan Unlocking Aboriginal Justice Program (GUAJ)
Wet’suwet’en Unlocking Aboriginal Justice Program (WUAJ)

The Office of the Wet’suwet’en fully supports the rights of children, women and men regardless of their diverse abilities to participate.  And tailor services to meet the needs of our membership regardless of where they reside.  In May 2012, the Office of the Wet’suwet’en agreed to administer the GUAJ program on a temporary basis.  WUAJ provides oversite on program services, policies and referrals.   In addition, WUAJ staff provides mentorship to the GUAJ Justice Workers.

The Wet’suwet’en Unlocking Aboriginal Justice Program exists to help Wet’suwet’en Clans & House Members to take responsibility for each other.  UAJ is designed to provide information on the content and practice of Wet’suwet’en law, to provide information on each particular client’s kinship connection in the development of healthy support networks to assist in the development, support and guidance during completion of the “Contract Agreement” between the client, the client’s clan and house and the Wet’suwet’en Unlocking Aboriginal Justice Program.

Individuals participating in the UAJ Program are taking responsibility for their actions, pleading guilty to their offenses if they are facing criminal charges within the Canadian Criminal Justice System or requesting support from their Clan and House Group in the development of a healing plan.  All participants enter the UAJ program on a voluntary basis.  UAJ is not mandated to give legal advice.

We strive to ensure that the work of services and organization is:

Relevant to the lives of the Wet’suwet’en People;
Responsive to policy;
Effective and of high standard;
Efficient and provides good value; and
Successful in securing the best outcomes for Wet’suwet’en people.

Our Five Strategic Aims Are:

Participation:                            Promoting positive influences, voice and place in society.
Professional Practice:              Improving work practices, programming and other services for all

Wet’suwet’en members.

Policy Development:                Influencing and shaping policies of those who plan, commission

and provide services to the Wet’suwet’en Nation.

Partnership:                             Creating, supporting and developing partnerships with housegroups and                                              organizations toimprove services and outcomes.
Performance:                          Striving for excellence in providing culturally grounded programming.

Our Mission:

“In partnership with the Canadian Justice System, we are committed to strengthening and enhancing our Wet’suwet’en Inuk Nuat’den – Our traditions and laws, to restore peace and balance in our nation.”

Our Mandate:


What is unique about the UAJ program?

The foundation is based upon traditional Wet’suwet’en Laws
The involvement of Hereditary Chiefs & Members
The linkage to a future governance structure
The acceptance of the UAJ program by both Provincial and Federal Governments

What is UAJ and whom do they serve?

The UAJ program is based on the traditional justice system of the Wet’suwet’en people.
UAJ serves all members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation no matter where they may reside.

Criteria & Conditions:

The potential client must be involved in the UAJ program by voluntary consent;
The client must be willing to take responsibility for his/her actions.
The victim must consent to the offender’s participation in the UAJ program.

Referral Process:

You can be referred to the UAJ program by any of the following agencies as well as applying on your own behalf:

Community, Clan, House
Community Corrections
Crown Counsel
Lawyer or Legal Aid

Assessment Stage:

The justice worker will request information (particulars) from the respective agencies;
The justice worker will conduct an initial interview to explain the criteria, conditions and process to determine the applicant’s eligibility;
The justice worker will contact the House Chief and/or Clan Rep. to review and assess the referral;
The justice worker will contact the victim and/or victim’s House group to explain the criteria, conditions and process in addition to reviewing and assessing the referral.

Contract Development:

When the referral has been accepted by all parties, a house group meeting is scheduled.  All parties to the contract must be in attendance.  If the victim feels uncomfortable meeting with the offender, separate meetings are held and the justice worker maintains open lines of communication.
A healing plan will be designed and ratified based on consensus.
The healing plan will be documented by the justice worker and compiled into a contract form and signed by all parties.  Each party to the contract reviews their own copy.
Contract is ratified using the UAJ Corporate Seal and presented in court on behalf of the participant.
The client is required to report on a monthly basis to review progress.  Monthly reports are submitted to the referring agency.
Should the client under the Contract Agreement not comply within three months without just cause, the justice worker will contact all parties to recommend the termination of the contract and return the file to the referring agency.

Please Note:

This information is provided for an overview of the UAJ program.  If you are interested in a complete review of the Criteria & Conditions, please contact the Justice Program Coordinator:

Sherry McKinnon – Justice Program Coordinator
Wet’suwet’en Unlocking Aboriginal Justice
Office of the Wet’suwet’en
3873 First Avenue, Smithers, B.C.
Ph: (250) 847-3630 ext. 250
Toll Free: 1-888-296-4411
Email: wuaj@wetsuweten.com