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Cover: Reconciliation and Indigenous Justice: A Search for Ways Forward

Reconciliation and Indigenous Justice: A Search for Ways Forward

By David Milward

Review By Denica Bleau

March 29, 2023

BC Studies no. 217 Spring 2023  | p. 125-126

With this volume, David Milward discusses the ongoing disruptions of settler colonialism as a result of Canadian residential schools, specifically the persisting effects that lead to the incarceration of Indigenous people(s). The book confronts the complicity of Canadian society, and the lack of accountability from Canadian governments and their systems, in perpetuating ongoing colonialism and systemic racism. Milward demonstrates how residential schools produced and sustain social disparities, intergenerational abuse, substance use, and trauma, all of which are causally linked to incarceration. He further explains the need for Indigenous justice at all stages of incarceration, including preventative programming, sentencing, incarceration, and rehabilitation. This book is important for employees of human and social services (social workers, counsellors, psychologists) and employees of the Criminal Justice System (judges, lawyers, probation officers, correctional officers, and police) in understanding the historical and current implications of colonization and incarceration.

Milward explores critiques and evaluations of both Western and Indigenous led justice, while ultimately advocating for Indigenous-centred initiatives and sustainable programing. He explains the successes and malfunctions of Indigenous initiatives, while also identifying the need to address gaps in both federal and provincial financial support and Indigenous community support and training. These arguments are supported by extensive empirical studies, explained through the lens of both Canadian criminal law and criminologists, and Indigenous perspectives. Milward identifies incarceration and trauma as a larger systemic issue and Canadian problem, rather than a provincial challenge. Although Milward focuses specifically on the context of Indigenous people(s) within Canada, he discusses the experiences of Black people(s) within the United States to draw on important parallels of the overincarceration, surveillance and unjust treatment of both Indigenous and Black people(s) and communities. He also addresses gaps in the data available within the Canadian context by drawing on case examples and restorative justice programming from the United States.

Milward states that Indigenous people(s) will need to continue to work with the Criminal Justice System in implementing Indigenous-centered justice programming, as an in-between-step for Indigenous communities to fully implement Indigenous justice programming. He argues that time is needed to build capacity through training Indigenous community members to deliver justice programing that supports offenders and victims of crimes, alongside affected community members and families. However, the argument for Indigenous-centered prison programming fails to address the reality that institutionalized prison programming is limited in effectively healing trauma. Individuals within prisons are forced to protect themselves both physically and mentally, and thus are not able to experience the vulnerability which is needed to conduct healing work to address trauma (Johnson 2019; van der Kolk 2014).

The book builds on prior literature by Indigenous, Black and non-Indigenous scholars, and Indigenous-developed reports, which have called for the recognition of mass incarceration as a result of colonialism, alongside the need to decolonize Indigenous justice. Here, these arguments are further dissected in concert with an examination of historical and current Western and Indigenous initiatives. In doing so, Milward provides a comprehensive history of initiatives, before presenting steps to move forward, in action, rather than relying on current unsustainable, short-lived government promises and financial band-aids. These steps are an imperative aspect of the book, as they have been absent from other literature regarding the incarceration of Indigenous people(s) and future phases.

This book provides important context for Canadians, scholars, community and institutional employees of the Canadian Criminal Justice System, to understand the context of Indigenous incarceration. Confronting current social disparities, injustices and inequities that generate incarceration, and accepting the implications for abolishing mass incarceration, are imperative in moving forward in the spirit and action of reconciliation.



Johnson, Harold. 2019. Peace and Good Order: The Case for Indigenous Justice in Canada. Hardcover edition. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart.

Kolk, Bessel van der. 2014. The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma. Allen Lane.

Milward, David. 2022. Reconciliation and Indigenous Justice: A Search for Ways Forward. Fernwood Pub.

Publication Information

Milward, David. Reconciliation and Indigenous Justice: A Search for Ways Forward. Halifax: Fernwood Publishing, 2022. 240 pp. $32.00 paper.