Laws from Outside
When the newcomers settled in our land, they came with their own laws and justice system. Reﬂecting the colonial attitudes of the time, the Mounted Police saw themselves as bringing justice and order to a lawless country. They did not consider that First Nations people already governed themselves and now were faced with foreign laws imposed by outsiders. Indigenous people were told that they were now part of the Dominion of Canada and answerable to a government far away. In the infamous case of the Nantucket brothers, two Tagish men were hanged in August 1899, the first executions in the newly-proclaimed Yukon Territory. This event had a great impact on the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in.
Percy Henry spoke about this over a century later:
"And that first hanging in Dawson, (Chief Isaac) asked for his people to be there. So the whole village came and watch the hanging. So, after they see that, so he told them, this is what happen, the white man law; if you kill people and get away with it, they hang you."
As related in the interpretive unit on Leadership, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in took responsibility for handling community matters when they established the Moosehide Council in 1921. For many years, the RCMP hired a First Nations special constable to serve in Moosehide. Although the special constable represented the RCMP, he likely reported to the Moosehide Council as his main authority. RCMP Annual Reports cite the decrease in alcohol offences after the special constable was hired. While this may be partly due to the police presence, it was also because the Moosehide Council was handling these problems. The job was held by at least two senior men, including Chief Isaac himself, indicating that this was a position of status and responsibility.
As with many Yukon First Nations, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in is working with the Yukon Government to incorporate new models of justice that are a blend of Canadian law and traditional values. Crimes are treated in a larger context beyond conviction and punishment.
In 2012/2013, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in took on community justice responsibilities. We practice the Restorative Justice Conferencing model, within Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in traditions. The Yukon Government provides funding and support to restorative justice projects in partnership with Justice Canada and Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in. Projects can include conferencing, circles, elders’ boards, and committees. These initiatives provide support and healing to victims, accused, offenders, family, and community members.
[Link: To learn more about the Restorative Community Conference Program see: ]
For inquiries about our community justice programs, contact our community justice worker via 867-993-7100.
The Territorial Administration Building was the seat of government for the Yukon.
University of Washington Libraries, Historical Photograph coll.