(Re)Mapping Justice in Saskatoon: The wâhkôhtowin Project’s Digital Justice Map


The wâhkôhtowin project shifts conceptions of justice outside of official/governing institutions to everyday places, experiences, and relationships. This essay provides sociohistorical context for the map, the concept of wâhkôtowin and associated teachings. The 2016 group produced a digital ‘story map’ that plots class members’ experiences of justice and injustice in Saskatoon. This essay offers concrete, tangible alternatives to incarceration and encourages the discussion, "what can community justice look like, what does it mean?"

INTRODUCTION (Page 146-148) 

"In recent years, “access to justice” has become a central concern for the Canadian legal profession. Multiple high-profile reports and studies have considered the issue and proposed solutions (Canadian Bar Association, 2013; Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters, 2013). Underpinning most of these studies and initiatives is an assumption that access to justice means access to official law and legal institutions. The focus is on reducing barriers that people face in gaining access to things like legal information, legal representation, and courts. To this end, there is growing empirical research that seeks to identify the legal problems faced by Canadians and the persistent barriers that people face in bringing these issues before the justice system (Currie, 2016). Some researchers have undertaken access to justice “mapping projects” in order to pinpoint geographically the legal and justice system services available to members of the public.

Too often missing from these dominant access to justice narratives, projects, and maps are the voices, perspectives, and experiences of people for whom Canadian law and legal institutions have been sources of harm and injustice. This paper seeks to intervene in these narratives by introducing a “digital justice map”[2] of Saskatoon that was created in 2016 by the participants of an interdisciplinary community-based class called “wâhkôhtowin” (which refers to the notion of kinship and the relationality of all things in Cree/nehiyâwêwin). The wâhkôhtowin project brings together University of Saskatchewan students (from the disciplines of Indigenous Studies, Law, and English), former gang members [3], and Indigenous high school students [4] in an interdisciplinary and community-based educational experience. The class meets weekly at a community centre over the course of a semester to read legal and literary texts, and to discuss and share stories—many deeply personal—about law, justice, and injustice. During the 2016 iteration of the class, the group created a digital “story map” about justice and injustice in Saskatoon, intended as both an archive of our collective learning and a teaching tool for others to use in educational or professional contexts. Informed by critical Indigenous “countermapping” theories and methodologies, the project employs stories, images, and analyses relating to class members’ experiences of justice and injustice in an interactive online digital map. The map is significant because it de-centres and critiques official justice institutions (courts, police, prisons) and locates justice, instead, in everyday places, practices, and relationships within and between communities. In so doing, it represents an intervention into ongoing Canadian discussions about access to justice and narrow definitions of justice itself, as well as offering a unique counterpoint to existing justice mapping projects.

In this paper, we first discuss the concept of access to justice as it is typically taken up in discourses within the legal community, and we introduce several recent Canadian access to justice mapping projects. In the next sections, we turn to an overview of the wâhkôhtowin course and the justice map, situating the latter within the frame of critical Indigenous mapping theories and methodologies. We then provide detailed analyses of select parts of the digital map, as well as additional sociohistorical context, in order to highlight the critical contributions of the project. Ultimately, we argue that our project is a reminder that those considering access to justice should re-orient themselves to consider the places, stories, and lived experiences of those who are impacted most directly by the Canadian justice system and who have the most intimate knowledge of the inequities of the colonial present. This, we argue, invites a critical re-evaluation of many current access to justice maps and narratives." (146-148).


Publication Information

Buhler, Settee, and Van Styvendale. “(Re)Mapping Justice in Saskatoon: The wâhkôhtowin Project’s Digital Justice Map.” The University of Winnipeg Centre for Interdisciplinary Justice Studies (CIJS). The Annual Review of Interdisciplinary Justice Research, Volume 8, 2019. 

Settee, Priscilla
Buhler, Sarah
Van Styvendale, Nancy
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