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Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin Says Media Could End Aboriginal Stereotypes

10/16/2015 03:34 EDT | Updated 10/16/2016 05:12 EDT

SASKATOON — Canada's top judge says modern media could be used to end stereotypes of aboriginal people created by old western movies and TV shows such as "The Lone Ranger.''

Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin told an administration of justice conference that the best time to change that attitude is when people are young.

"My own view is we should look at making this part of public school curriculum. And we should also accompany it with all sorts of cultural and other backups, like video and use the modern electronic media, which are often games and things like that,'' McLachlin said Friday in Saskatoon.

"Ironically, in the traditional western that developed in the Lone Ranger and Tonto and that kind of thing, the media was used to shape a certain perception of indigenous people and it was pretty effective and sometimes in very negative ways. Well, there's another way of looking at that — how do you use the media to get out the reality.''

McLachlin says it's a complex problem and change won't happen overnight.

Justice Murray Sinclair, who led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, says media can have a profound impact on aboriginal people and how they are perceived by others.

"Probably the world of media, the world of image portrayal is the most significant area of potential public education because the way that we project images into peoples minds, whether through the written word or through the video or through pictures, has a dramatic impact upon how they see people in reality,'' said Sinclair.

Sinclair, who was Canada's second aboriginal judge, says public schools have an important role to play in changing the relationship between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people.

But he says it needs to go further.

"In terms of the general public, people who will no longer be in public schools, people who are beyond that age, we also need to concentrate on how to change their knowledge base and image of indigenous people,'' said Sinclair.

"And that's through media, through videos, through the written word, through story, as well as through things like graphic novels.''

The Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice conference was looking at the role justice plays in the lives of aboriginal people.

McLachlin says many aboriginal people fear or mistrust Canada's legal system.

She also says immigrants might not have faith in the system either and there could be broader implications from that.

"Minority groups may fear the justice system, avoid it, even refuse to engage with it and ultimately, perhaps sadly, decline to accept its legitimacy,'' said McLachlin.

"New Canadians who have come from countries where justice was equated with oppression and where the courts were corrupt, may find it difficult to trust the Canadian legal system and the Canadian courts.''

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