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The Problem of Justice

Tradition and Law in the Coast Salish World

Bruce Granville Miller

Publication Year: 2001

For the indigenous peoples of North America, the history of colonialism has often meant a distortion of history, even, in some cases, a loss or distorted sense of their own native practices of justice. How contemporary native communities have dealt quite differently with this dilemma is the subject of The Problem of Justice, a richly textured ethnographic study of indigenous peoples struggling to reestablish control over justice in the face of conflicting external and internal pressures.
The peoples discussed in this book are the Coast Salish communities along the northwest coast of North America: the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe in Washington State, the Stó:lo Nation in British Columbia, and the South Island Tribal Council on Vancouver Island. Here we see how, despite their common heritage and close ties, each of these communities has taken a different direction in understanding and establishing a system of tribal justice. Describing the results—from the steadily expanding independence and jurisdiction of the Upper Skagit Court to the collapse of the South Island Justice Project—Bruce G. Miller advances an ethnographically informed, comparative, historically based understanding of aboriginal justice and the particular dilemmas tribal leaders and community members face. His work makes a persuasive case for an indigenous sovereignty associated with tribally controlled justice programs that recognize diversity and at the same time allow for internal dissent.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Series: Fourth World Rising


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pp. vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. viii

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Series Editors' Introduction

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pp. ix-xi

The Problem of Justice is the second volume in Fourth World Rising, a new series of contemporary ethnographies from the University of Nebraska Press. The series focuses on contemporary issues, including class, gender, religion, and politics: in sum, it addresses social and cultural differentiation among and between native peoples as they confront ...

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pp. xiii

Many people, members of American Indian communities and Canadian First Nations as well as academics and lay people, have provided their help, support, and ideas for this book. My sincere thanks go to all of these people, in particular those elders and community culture experts who shared their knowledge. I wish to give special thanks to several ...

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pp. 1-28

The coastal and riverine areas of Puget Sound in Washington State, southern Vancouver Island in British Columbia, and the adjacent Fraser River valley are spectacularly beautiful and abundant in resources. Snowcapped mountains, including the majestic 14,400-foot-high Mt. Rainier, tower over river valleys that are home to deer, elk, bear, and many other ...

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1. Foreground

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pp. 29-54

Canadian policy regarding the implementation of indigenous justice in British Columbia is framed by the absence of treaties that might provide direction concerning leadership, governance, and law (with the exception of fourteen mid-nineteenth-century agreements with small bands on Vancouver Island that have been interpreted to have the force ...

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2. Background

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pp. 72-92

In the early 2000s it is diffi cult to adequately characterize the practices of aboriginal justice as they existed early on in the era following intrusion by Euro-American outsiders. Indeed, attempting to do so replicates the dif ficulties encountered within the three programs whose efforts I describe here. Efforts to reconstruct mid-nineteenth-century justice ...

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3. Upper Skagit Justice

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pp. 93-120

In this chapter I consider in detail how justice practices changed in a single community, Upper Skagit, over a century and a half. During the period from the middle of the nineteenth century to the start of the twenty-fi rst, Upper Skagit people lost control of much of their territory and the regulation of community life. Community members developed ...

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4. The Stó:lō Nation

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pp. 121-162

... have had less control over the institutions of justice and, as of yet, have not reestablished criminal and civil jurisdiction over members. For these reasons, their responses to intrusions of the mainstream society have not been the same. They do, however, face the same core question: namely, how to order relations between the constituent groups within their own society while managing relations ...

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5. An Intertribal Justice Discussion

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pp. 163-174

The differences in experiences of the Coast Salish nations on opposite sides of the international border are suffi ciently great that there are sizeable gaps in knowledge and differences in viewpoint. This is true even though there is commonality in traditional culture, intermarriage, and persistent patterns of mutual participation in ceremonial life. I have ...

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6. The South Island Justice Project

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pp. 175-200

In the 1980s and 1990s, a third group of Coast Salish communities engaged in an attempt at diversionary justice. Under the authority of the mainstream judicial system, a limited number of criminal cases were diverted to a local indigenous system of justice. The now-defunct South Island Justice Project (SIJP) differed from those at Upper Skagit and at ...

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7. Conclusion

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pp. 201-210

This tour of aboriginal justice in Coast Salish communities of Washington State and British Columbia is constructed around the idea that colonial processes have transformed and distorted the politics of indigenous communities, including the ways in which community members understand their own prior practices of justice. Rather than providing ...

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Series Editors' Afterword

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pp. 211-216

Few people working in native communities in North America at virtually any time in the last two decades, on reservations and beyond, have been able to avoid lengthy discussions of native justice systems. Where broad community mobilization and confrontation captured the headlines in the Red Power era of the 1960s and 1970s, indigenous ...


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pp. 217-234


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pp. 235-240

E-ISBN-13: 9780803201941
E-ISBN-10: 080320194X

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: Illus., maps
Publication Year: 2001

Series Title: Fourth World Rising