The Power Plant

Images of Justice: Sissons/Morrow Collection

Sissons/Morrow Collection

Past Exhibition

Jun 24 – Sep 04 2005

Images of Justice: Sissons/Morrow Collection 25 June - 5 September, 2005 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Justice Edward Richard and Janet Sian of the Yellowknife Courthouse Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre

The Sissons/Morrow Collection, also known as The Yellowknife Courthouse Collection of Inuit Sculpture, consists of twenty-five sculptures and one stuffed duck. It documents scenes from noteworthy cases that came before the Northwest Territories Supreme Court and its first two justices in the years between 1955 and 1976. Started by Mr. Justice J. H. Sissons, and augmented by his successor, Mr. Justice William G. Morrow, the collection of sculptures represents a legal history of the Yellowknife courthouse, illustrating cases that came to trial during a period of overwhelming social change in the Canadian Arctic, a time when the ancient Inuit camp system was eroding and age-old practices and traditional mores were being called into question. In the years after the Second World War, and in reaction to southern society’s northward expansion, Inuit began to move to settlements equipped with schools and nursing stations around the old fur-trading posts. The small sculptures in the Yellowknife Courthouse Collection attest to the challenges the court faced as Inuit adopted new ways of living. During this transitional period, the court not only had to rule on traditional practices, but also to pass judgment on crimes arising out of these new circumstances. An eloquent example of this is the sculpture Suicide of Kolitalik (Sam Anovilok, 1963), which represents a case in which three accused were charged with aiding the suicide of Aleak Kolitalik, the leader of a hunting camp near the remote eastern Arctic settlement of Igloolik on the Melville Peninsula. According to Inuit custom, the elders have the right to be obeyed. Changing lifestyles and the introduction of old-age pensions have removed the imperatives for such actions; but in traditional Inuit camp days, old people who felt they had become a burden sometimes chose to end their lives, perhaps demanding the help of relatives. “Such cases were common in those days,” notes Jean Belec, the officer who commanded the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Fort Smith subdivision headquarters from 1954 to 1957. “What we would call murder was just considered custom.” At the trial, held in Igloolik in April 1963, Mr. Justice J. H. Sissons found the accused guilty and imposed suspended sentences.

Mr. Justice Sissons collected his first carving shortly after he tried his first case in the Northwest Territories. Carving was, and is, an important occupation for Inuit. In the 1950s and 1960s, as campers moved to the settlements, art projects were introduced across the North, initially as make-work projects. In Sissons’s first case, Regina v. Kaotak, which also involved a suicide, the boy Kaotak was charged with murdering his father on the sea ice. He was found not guilty, and the following year he presented Sissons with a sculpture that gave his impression of the experience in court. The judge, a mighty figure dressed in a traditional parka and holding a book of laws, is seated before the bench. In front of him stands the boy. Sissons subsequently began to commission carvings to illustrate important cases that came before his court. On Sissons’s death in 1969, the collection was given to the people of the Northwest Territories, and today is deeded in trust to the judges of the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories. The Power Plant exhibition marks the first time this remarkable collection has been seen outside the Yellowknife Courthouse.

Text taken in part from Dorothy Eber’s book, Images of Justice: A Legal History of the Northwest Territories as Traced through the Yellowknife Courthouse Collection of Inuit Sculpture, McGill Queen’s University Press, 1997, pp. 33–35. The book will be available for sale during the exhibition.

Images of Justice: Sissons/Morrow Collection is on loan from the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories.

Photo: Rafael Goldchain.

Stone, copper, knitting wool, and caribou antler. Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories. Photo: Rafael Goldchain.

Stone and copper. Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories. Photo: Rafael Goldchain.

Photo: Rafael Goldchain.

Photo: Rafael Goldchain.

Photo: Rafael Goldchain.