Stories from the front : realities of the over-incarceration of Aboriginal women in Canada


University of British Columbia

Date Issued


Document Type



Master of Laws - LLM




Aboriginal women are dramatically over-represented within Canada’s prison population, accounting for 41% of the women in sentenced custody, while constituting but 4% of the country’s female population. Moreover, their rates of over-incarceration have risen dramatically over the course of the last decade, and show no signs of slowing down. Nevertheless, the over-incarceration of Indigenous women in Canada (as distinct from Aboriginal over-incarceration more generally) has been understudied. This has left a significant gap in the academic understanding of how and why Aboriginal women experience such disproportionate rates of incarceration. There is equally a dearth of research on the subject of what criminalized Indigenous women themselves have to say about their experiences within the criminal justice system and the factors underlying their criminalization. Based on a qualitative research study undertaken with ten previously-incarcerated Aboriginal women, this thesis tells the stories of how Indigenous Canadian women can be brought into conflict with the criminal justice system, and of how the system in turn responds to the factors underlying their criminalization. After surveying the existing studies and analyses that have been undertaken on the subject of Indigenous women’s over-incarceration in Canada, this author relays the stories of the ten women who participated in her research project, focussing on the factors that brought them into conflict with the law and their experiences of incarceration. This author then analyses the lived experiences of the research participants, identifying themes and patterns in their narratives. Drawing connections to existing research and identifying gaps in the literature, this author explores the participants’ experiences within various facets of the Canadian criminal justice system, including in penitentiaries, provincial prisons, remand centres, healing lodges, parole offices, and in their relationships with their own lawyers. This thesis argues that the participants’ experiences illustrate the inadequacy of many of the criminal justice interventions that have been developed with the aim of reducing Aboriginal over-incarceration in Canada. This thesis concludes with a summary of the research project’s findings and its limitations, followed by a discussion of the impact that recent criminal justice reforms are likely to have on the over-incarceration experienced by Aboriginal Canadians.

Date Available



Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International




Law, Faculty of