Catherine Benton becomes first Mi'kmaq, female aboriginal judge in N.S.
Published Friday, March 24, 2017 7:29PM EDT
Standing on lands her people have inhabited for centuries, Catherine Benton took a historic oath on Friday, becoming both Nova Scotia’s first Mi'kmaq and female aboriginal judge.
“I believe it's vital that the Mi'kmaq community and non-First Nation communities alike see Mi'kmaq people as competent, of value and respected for our contributions and perspectives,” Benton said during her swearing-in ceremony in Bridgewater, N.S.
Benton was a lawyer for 22 years prior to her appointment to the bench and has done extensive work on aboriginal justice issues. Her family was on hand Friday along with dozens of dignitaries, including fellow judges and a number of Mi'kmaq chiefs.
“She knows the communities,” Chief Wilbert Marshall of the Potlotek First Nation told CTV Atlantic after the ceremony. “And she knows the way of life, you know, what the struggles are and all that.”
“I never thought I’d see it in my lifetime,” Senator Dan Christmas, a prominent member of the Mi'kmaq Nation, added. “Unfortunately, we have more than our fair share of Mi'kmaq individuals coming through the court system and I think it's very important that we have individuals on the bench who have a strong understanding, a real deep empathy for Mi'kmaq people and their social and cultural backgrounds.”
The Mi'kmaq people are indigenous to Canada’s Atlantic provinces and Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula.
“Her presence on the bench will bring diversity in the courtroom for those that work in the justice system, but more importantly, those that appear before it,” Heather McNeil, a Mi’kmaq lawyer who heads the Indigenous Blacks & Mi'kmaq Initiative at Dalhousie University’s Schulich School of Law, said during the ceremony.
“As Chief Justice, I worry about the next Donald Marshall Junior, or the next Grand Chief Sylliboy, or the next Viola Desmond who may walk through those doors of the courtroom,” Chief Justice of Nova Scotia J. Michael MacDonald said at the event. “We never want that to happen again. I think this afternoon, the odds got a little better.”
With files from CTV Atlantic