Landmark Northern Canadian Legal Cases and Trials
This series publishes, in open-access book format, archival material on investigations and legal proceedings related to landmark court cases in the Canadian North. The purpose is to make it easier for researchers to access original documentation about Indigenous peoples’ experiences and encounters with colonial legal systems during the twentieth century. Topics include murder trials, Indigenous harvesting rights, title cases, the legal status of Indigenous people(s), and adoption cases.
By bringing documents out of the archives and reproducing them into more accessible forms, our hope is that teachers, students, and scholars will use this material to discuss and debate the interactions between the legal cultures of Northern Indigenous peoples and the Canadian state, the legal proceedings themselves, and relationships within Indigenous societies and with outsiders. The case files and trial transcripts also represent valuable ethnohistorical sources to write Indigenous social histories and to understand and discuss cultural practices.
Each volume includes an introduction to set the context, summarize key themes and aspects of the investigations and trials, and situate the case in previous scholarship.
Phase One: The Introduction of Colonial Law in Inuit Nunangat
The initial focus is on murder cases from the first half of the twentieth century, with particular attention devoted to Inuit Nunangat. These proceedings offer fascinating insights into how Northern Indigenous peoples administered justice, cross-cultural expectations and relations, and the government’s perceived need to enforce criminal law as an assertion of sovereignty.
The first volume, on the trials and subsequent executions of Tatamigana and his young nephew Alikomiak for the murders of RCMP Cpl. W. A. Doak and trader Otto Binder in 1922 at Tree River, was published in 2017 as Arctic Show Trial: The Trial of Alikomiak and Tatamigana, compiled by P. Whitney Lackenbauer and Kristopher Kinsinger, and introduced by Ken Coates and William R. Morrison. Alikomiak and Tatamigana were the first Inuit tried and executed for murder under Canadian law. The case was the third in a series of killings of outsiders by Inuit in the western Arctic which had begun in 1912; the first two (the subject of future volumes listed below) had resulted in more lenient treatment. The trial of these two men, which took place in the summer of 1923, was in the nature of a show trial, designed by the federal government to show the Inuit that the authorities would no longer tolerate such acts of violence. It was also meant to be a demonstration to the world of Canada’s sovereign rights in the Arctic, rights which had an uncertain foundation in international law. The conviction and execution of Alikomiak and Tatamigana caused controversy at the time; sentiment for clemency was based on claims (made then and subsequently) that Inuit were simple and primitive, and did not understand the principle of execution for murder. The sentencing of Alikomiak and Tatamigana was entirely in keeping with Inuit custom. Furthermore, alternatives to execution suggested by those with better knowledge of the North were in some ways even harsher than capital punishment. Extracts from the capital case file and the transcripts of the trial make these points clear.
The second volume, “Religious Frenzy” and the Application of Canadian Law: The Belcher Island Murders, 1941, has been completed by Corah Hodgson and P. Whitney Lackenbauer and will be released publicly in fall 2020. Supplemental parts to this volume provide additional material on the post-trial fate of the various Inuit convicted as well as additional archival records from the RCMP files shared by historian Kenn Harper.
The third volume, with anticipated release in 2021, compiles the police reports, court records, and newspaper articles related to the trial of Sinnisiak and Uloqsak (Uluksuk) in 1917 for the murders of Oblate missionary priests Father Jean-Baptiste Rouvière and Father Guillaume Le Roux (Ilogoak) near Bloody Falls four years earlier.
The fourth volume will reproduce the transcripts of the two trials of Kikkik in 1958.
The fifth volume will compile the police reports, court records, and newspaper articles related to the murder of Robert Janes in 1923 near Cape Crawford and the subsequent trial of Nuqallaq.
The sixth volume will compile the police reports, court records, and newspaper articles related to the murders of Henry Radford and George Street at Bathurst Inlet in 1911.
Anyone interested in contributing a volume to this series should please contact P. Whitney Lackenbauer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other planned volumes include:
The “million dollar duck”: the Sikyea case (1964)
Clyde River v (2017)
Eskimo case (1929)
Sigeareak El-53 v. The Queen,  S.C.R. 645
To develop a more balanced and accurate understanding of the past, scholars from all backgrounds must engage with Indigenous ways of knowing and remembering the past, alongside more traditional archival methodologies. In the future, we hope to build an online platform that will invite and share commentaries by Northern legal experts, scholars, and other knowledge holders to offer their perspectives on the cases and the documents.