Healing lodge for youth key to shift in justice system

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Manitoba’s first healing lodge for First Nations youth involved in the justice system will be built in Thompson so northern children can get support and cultural programs closer to home.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/03/2022 (254 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Manitoba’s first healing lodge for First Nations youth involved in the justice system will be built in Thompson so northern children can get support and cultural programs closer to home.

The province will give $2 million to Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc., a political advocacy group that represents 26 northern First Nations, to set up and run the facility for boys and girls.

The lodge will open in phases, with the first having 20 open-custody beds and community transition programs at an undetermined site.

The healing lodge will be an opportunity for youth to be able to access help, said MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

At a news conference at MKO’s Winnipeg headquarters, Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen said the facility “won’t look like a traditional incarcerated setting.”

“It’s going to be a lot more about supportive help than it’s going to be about keeping somebody locked in a cell,” he said.

Officials did not commit to a targeted opening date.

Thompson Mayor Colleen Smook said the city cited the need for a restorative justice centre years ago.

“It’s definitely one of the best things that’s happened to Thompson in a long time,” she said.

Ainsley Krone, the acting Manitoba advocate for children and youth, welcomed the announcement, and said she hopes the province will set up similar sites in other regions.

“I would welcome any announcements of programs that are happening in other parts of the province,” she said.

The Thompson lodge will add more justice resources in northern Manitoba, which doesn’t have any youth jails or transitional sites.

Incarcerated young offenders from the region serve their sentences hundreds of kilometres away from home at the Manitoba Youth Centre in Winnipeg or Agassiz Youth Centre in Portage la Prairie.

Manitoba Justice announced Thursday it will shut down Agassiz on July 22, and moving inmates to the youth centre. Agassiz and the youth centre are operating well below capacity. Fewer youth are being given custodial sentences, said Krone.

Goertzen believes there will be “better outcomes” if First Nations youth are closer to their families and receive support that is tailored to them.

The second phase will focus on programs for those struggling with addictions or mental health issues. Phase three will introduce employment and skills training.

For at-risk youth, the lodge will offer transitional housing options and support from community justice and probation workers.

The site will also take in non-violent youth detained under the Intoxicated Persons Detention Act. Currently, cells at Thompson’s RCMP detachment are used.

There are plans to add more beds to the initial 20, said Goertzen, who hopes the federal government will provide money to offset operating costs.

Goertzen and MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee said elders, experts and community leaders will help to develop the roster of programs, and planning is already underway.

They hope an Indigenous-led site with culturally relevant programs on traditional northern land will help to prevent reoffending, steer at-risk kids away from trouble and aid Manitoba’s reconciliation efforts.

“This is an opportunity for the youth to be able to access the help that they need so they don’t go into the system any further,” said Settee.

Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen believes there will be better outcomes if First Nations youth are closer to their families and receive support that is tailored to them. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

He said programs will aim to address the “root causes” of offending.

“Most of that has to do with a lot of pain that they’ve carried through intergenerational trauma,” he said.

When youth leave the lodge and return to their communities, staff will follow up and programs will still be available to them so they aren’t abandoned, he added.

For years, said Settee, First Nations leaders have called for strategies to address over-representation of Indigenous people in jails.

“It is my conviction that it doesn’t serve anybody anything to incarcerate our youth. They need access to programs and resources to be able navigate their way through intergenerational impacts of residential schools, the Sixties Scoop, the day schools and the child welfare system,” he said.

Krone said Manitoba Justice still has plenty of work to do to help youth in the justice system, as its compliance rate of recommendations in her office’s latest annual report is just 30 per cent.

She has called on the province to end its use of “inappropriate” and “damaging” solitary confinement and segregation at youth jails.

Krone said the government must do more to address the mental-health needs of youth in custody.

“They’re not always getting the supports they need,” she said.

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont echoed that call.

“There are a series of critical reforms that still need to take place because plenty of Indigenous people still get railroaded by the justice system,” he said in an emailed statement.

“A healing lodge is good because it will focus on therapy instead of punishment, but we still need legal aid reform and funding, more specialized housing for offenders with mental illness, and translation into Cree. These are all action items that are badly needed.”

chris.kitching@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @chriskitching

Chris Kitching
Reporter

As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

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