As a Crown Attorney working with First Nations in remote northwestern Ontario, Rupert Ross learned that he was routinely misinterpreting the behaviour of Aboriginal victims, witnesses, and offenders, both in and out of court. He discovered that he regularly drew wrong conclusions when he encountered witnesses who wouldn’t make eye contact, victims who wouldn’t testify in the presence of the accused, and parents who showed great reluctance to interfere in their children’s offending behaviour. With the assistance of Aboriginal teachers, he began to see that behind such behaviour lay a complex web of coherent cultural commandments that he had never suspected, much less understood.
As his awareness of traditional Native teachings grew, he found that the areas of miscommunication extended well beyond the courtroom, causing cross-cultural misunderstanding—and ill-informed condemnation.
Dancing with a Ghost is Ross’s attempt to give some definition to the cultural gap that bedevils the relationships and distorts the communications between Native peoples and the dominant white Canadian society—and to encourage others to begin their own respectful cross-cultural explorations. As Ross discovered, traditional perspectives have a great deal to offer modern-day Canada, not only in the context of justice but also in terms of the broader concepts of peaceful social organization and personal fulfilment.
RUPERT ROSS is a retired assistant Crown Attorney for the District of Kenora, Ontario. Starting in 1985, he conducted criminal prosecutions for more than twenty remote Ojibway and Cree First Nations communities in northwestern Ontario. His first book, Dancing with a Ghost, started his exploration of aboriginal visions of existence and became a bestseller. His second book, Returning to the Teachings, was also a bestseller and examined the aboriginal preference for the “peacemaker justice” he observed during a three-year secondment with Justice Canada. Both books were shortlisted for the Gordon Montour Award for the best Canadian non-fiction book on social issues, and are presently used in universities and colleges across North America. Following his retirement, Ross was awarded the prestigious 2011 National Prosecution Award for Humanitarianism, and the Ontario Crown Attorneys Association has created an award named after him. He continues to live just north of Kenora with his wife, Val.