A new digital program launched by the Southern Chiefs’ Organization focuses on restorative justice and aims to fill a gap in mental health programs and services in Manitoba.
The program, announced Thursday, was created by the organization’s community justice workers in collaboration with elders, knowledge keepers and a mental health therapist.
It includes a workbook and five videos that feature Elder William Campbell, from Ebb and Flow First Nation; Elder Gertrude Ballantyne, from Brokenhead Ojibway Nation, and mental health therapist Anita Price, from Sagkeeng First Nation.
Cecil Sveinson, a traditional knowledge keeper from Poplar River First Nation, also collaborated on the project, which highlights topics such as abandonment, trauma and healing, coping strategies, cultural teachings and language, a press release said.
Programs like this are “crucial,” Grand Chief Jerry Daniels stated in the release, and its digital format will ensure many people can participate.
“Restorative justice means we give the opportunity for our people to make amends and heal in our traditional ways,” Daniels said.
The program’s focus on restorative justice is of profound importance for Indigenous people struggling with addiction and other socioeconomic issues, he said.
“We have to do everything in our power to provide support, to provide direction and utilize every tool at our disposal to make that possible,” Daniels told the Sun. “We really want [people] to succeed and find true meaning in themselves and a hope for the future, and a hope for opportunities and hopefully to find some healing and a better quality of life.”
Sveinson, a former officer with the Winnipeg Police Service, said he hopes the program will flourish and grow in the coming years, noting that restorative justice is a much more valued approach in Indigenous cultures.
“There was no punitive idea of justice … amongst the Anishinaabe people prior to colonization,” he told the Sun. “The closest translation to justice is ‘onashawewin,’ which means the restoration of harmony.”
First Nations citizens are over-represented in the Canadian justice system, facing over-incarceration and longer sentences than non-Indigenous citizens, the SCO said.
A June report by the Office of the Auditor General found “systemic disparities in security classification and in parole and programming that persistently disadvantage Indigenous people.”
It is all part of a colonial system of retributive, punitive justice that doesn’t work for Indigenous people, said Sveinson, who has participated in close to 50 restorative justice circles.
“All that’s happening when we send our men and our women and our youth to jail is they’re just coming out angrier.”
Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun