Girls in Justice


Recorded February 15, 2021


Christa Big Canoe

Meda Chesney-Lind

Rebekah Enoch

If you would like to ask a question of any of the panelists, go to their bio page and click on Start a Conversation

Christa Big Canoe of the Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto presents on her work with Indigenous girls in conflict with the law, discussing incarceration, over-apprehension, and the issue of suicide among Indigenous girls and youth in Canada. Her presentation is followed by commentary from Meda Chesney-Lind, Past-President of the American Society of Criminology and Chair of the Department of Women’s Studies, University of Hawaii at Manoa. Meda’s commentary covers Native Hawaiian girls and their over representation in Hawaii’s juvenile justice system. This panel is moderated by Dui Hua Fellow Rebekah Enoch.

Big Canoe’s presentation delves into the systematic abuse, exploitation, and neglect experienced by Indigenous communities in Canada. She broaches such topics as institutional persecution, generational trauma, the continued negative effects of outdated legal structures targeting Indigenous people, and psycho-social well being. Drawing on her work with the Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto and as Lead Commission Counsel to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, she speaks about the need for dialogue that leads to meaningful change in the form of policy while also highlighting the ongoing damage done by legal systems that are designed to control, rather than serve, Indigenous communities.

Meda Chesney-Lind joins to offer commentary about parallel trends and treatment in Hawaii. Citing similar trends, such as over-policing, Chesney-Lind’s commentary takes the audience on a brief journey through Hawaii’s recent colonial history. From the imprisonment of Queen Lili’uokalani to today’s system where prison guards struggle to even pronounce the names of the Indigenous prisoners they monitor, this presentation reflects the continued challenges presented by inadequate justice systems shaped by the vestiges of colonial attitudes.

Here are some key takeaways from the event:

“When children are removed from their homes, their community, when they lose their language, when they lose their culture, they have an increased chance of experiencing interactions with the criminal justice system.” – Christa Big Canoe

“When we hear from the victims and survivors of missing and murdered women or disappeared women or those who experienced the harm, empowering them to share their narrative is important because the story comes from their perspective. But if we refuse to listen, if we refuse to hear what also they recommend or some of the solutions and to put those solutions into place, then we’re not moving the needle. We’re just listening to stories, and it’s important to listen to stories, but we have to be able to actually create the change.”- Christa Big Canoe

“…we’re seeing..a huge percentage of girls involved in suicidal [behavior], self‑mutilation, arguing with staff. That’s because there was nothing [to do] during the time that we were there looking at the detention facility. Girls were spending inordinate amounts of time, just sitting on the grass, around, doing nothing. Then when they did get to do something, it was often to prepare meals for the boys and for the staff.” – Meda Chesney-Lind


Native Hawaiian Youth in Hawai’i Detention Center: Colonialism and Carceral Control
Native Hawaiian Youth in Hawai’i Detention Centers
Calls for Action to Combat Violence Against Indigenous Women, Girls, & 2SLGBTQQIA People
Indigenous Girls in the Canadian Criminal Justice System