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Traditional Justice

In 2005, two of our former chiefs spoke of how wrongdoers were handled in the past.


According to Darren Taylor:

"I know in traditional law if you weren’t … being a benefit to the Band or the village or the group of people and you were a hindrance, a lot of times there were stories of individuals being kicked out of the community and having to live out on the land alone in isolation for a period of time before they were invited back in... You had to have a good sound structure in place. Survival depended on it at that time, and having weak links was a concern for everybody. If everybody didn’t pull their weight, then obviously the whole community is going to suffer."


Percy Henry also spoke of early justice practices:

"If you hurt somebody, or you beat up somebody, or you kill somebody, that’s when you have to go before Chief, and that’s not very good. You get punished, you never forget. And then … if you hurt another tribe, one of his people, they all come, talk to you. The other Chief, he’s going to talk to you. If you’re not going to do nothing about it, then everybody got to pay for it …


"So the two Chief had to come together first and talk about it. That’s how justice work in those days. You can’t go around hurting people and get away with it."


In the early days, survival depended on cooperation and mutual support. Young people learned the need to show respect to the land, animals and fish. Failure to abide by this code or dä`’òlé could jeopardize success in hunting and fishing. It was also important to be able to rely upon one another. People who endangered others by their behaviour could be exiled.


For the most part, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in had good relations with their neighbours. Wars were infrequent and usually consisted of raiding parties on another group. Again there were codes governing matters such as trade, intermarriage and hunting in one another’s traditional territory. Disputes were negotiated among the leaders. If it was agreed that one group had been wronged by a member of another, justice was exacted by either retribution or compensation.

 Walter Benjamin, Chief Isaac's son and Chief Isaac, ca. 1898. C.H. Metcalf photo

Alaska State Library, Metcalf coll. PCA 34-123

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