150+ Canadians Day 06: Jack Sissons

Image:  Judge Sissons flying over western Arctic on circuit in 1956. {Legal Archives Society of Alberta}

Jack Sissons contributed to peace by incorporating Inuit tradition into his work in the Court of the Northwest Territories.#Canada150

Justice Sissons spent a good part of his Judicial career administering justice in small communities in the Northwest Territories and was a staunch supporter of the rights of Native and Inuit peoples. He was Judge of the Territorial Court of the Northwest Territories, 16 September 1955 – 15 July 1966.

[Legal Archives Society of Alberta]

Judge Sissons was called Ekoktoegee or “The one who listens to things”.  Judge Jack Sissons traveled by aircraft and dog sled holding trials in remote communities. He was a legend to the Inuit people as he was able to integrate the law with their traditional practices. His views were not always popular with the bureaucracy, but were admired by the people he served.

It is believed that his twice yearly circuits would total nearly 64,000 km. He hired an Inuit soft stone carver to make a carving of each prominent murder case he presided over.  He was inspired to do this when he ruled in favour of traditional justice in the case of a young boy who presented him with a soapstone carving after the trial. These carvings are on display in the Yellowknife Court House.

“Kaotak stands before the Judge.” This was the first case that Judge Sissons tried in the Northwest Territories, and was the first carving he received. The accused was charged with murdering his father on sea ice in Queen Maud Gulf. At the trial in Yellowknife, he was found not guilty. This trial produced 2 carvings. This first one shows how big the judge looked to the accused who made the carving. (Source: Northwest Territories Courts where you can view the entire collection.)