This episode jumps right in with some shocking statistics: 20-25% of all prisoners in Canada are Indigenous. However, in prisons located in the prairies, the population rate of Indigenous persons is estimated to be 75%. Kimberly Pate, National Director, Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies goes on to say that “Canada’s rate of incarceration of Indigenous people is worse than any other incarceration rate worldwide.”
These numbers beg the question, “Why?” with a follow up question, “What can be done to reverse this trend?”
When you consider these numbers in the context of colonization–the loss of land, language, culture, and ceremony, the significant change in manner of dress, the way lives are conducted, the way people interact–we begin to understand the significant changes undergone by communities. Then, when told “Just get over it already” by the ignorant or unsympathetic, you open up a powder keg of anger and retaliatory violence. Combining this anger, the social dysfunction created by other governmental policies, and a discriminatory justice system, we can begin to understand the “Why”. And all of this has suited the Crown and its reason for colonization; there has been a consistent lack of people present on the land, thus allowing the Crown free access to the land and all of its resources.
Isaac Murdoch, Traditional Story-Teller returns again this week to explain the history of how Canada’s justice system has shaped Indigenous life. He states: ” When you look at justice today, it is not a holistic system. It is an individual system” … “Today they are just responding to the crime and before [within each community] they would respond to the break down that took place.” Travis Gabriel, Traditional Helper, Waseskun Healing Centre, QC, adds that the cycle of violence and drug abuse present today “has become habit, and one of our main goals here [at the healing centre] is making sure that whatever problems they had that got them into the prison system, don’t go home with them.”
To break this cycle and to reverse the high rates of incarceration, legal advocates have been promoting Restorative Justice, a process aimed at reintegrating convicted offenders successfully into their communities.To understand the process of Restorative Justice we follow the stories of Sheri Pranteau and Elijah Decoursay, both convicted offenders, who through the aid of Gladue Reports have been sentenced to individually tailored sentences that promote their reintegration.
Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow, Justice Consultant, explains the process of a Gladue Report. Every Indigenous offender that faces 90 days or more incarceration is eligible to have a Gladue Report prepared prior to sentencing. This is a unique pre-sentencing report that specifically itemizes the circumstances of the offender’s life and how they became a part of the justice system. It also includes the voices of community members. These reports are particularly effective if the crime in question is considered minor in nature and the judge believes that Restorative Justice is a suitable option instead of traditional incarceration, or “jail time”.
This is another informative episode jam packed with details that tackle a difficult consequence of colonization, and how reconciliation can be achieved!