First Nations in northern Saskatchewan experience extensive conflict with the law and the criminal justice system. According to the plethora of news reports, it is clear the system is failing Aboriginal people and the situation is getting worse. There are high incarceration rates of First Nations peoples in provincial and federal jails. This is unacceptable and costly. In February 2016, MacLean’s magazine referred to Canadian jails as the new ‘Residential schools’ because of discriminatory practices and a biased punitive justice system. Some of the root causes stem from over 500 years of colonization and 100 years of Residential Schools that have resulted in cultural disorientation, intergenerational trauma, addictions, violence, family breakdown, depression, suicidal ideation, mental health issues, and other psycho-social symptoms.
Miscarriage of justice in the north is all too common affecting families that are already in a vulnerable state. Culturally based supports, on-going Indigenous-based professional development, traditional land-based healing and education initiatives are limited. Mental health supports are lacking. The jury selection process requires review and change including more training for lawyers in relation to making Gladue submissions. There is a need to focus on missing and murdered Aboriginal women. Anti-gang strategies and youth empowerment initiatives are critical. Community-based restorative and diversion initiatives require implementation. The recruitment of northern First Nations peoples in the Justice and Police sectors needs to be prioritized. PAGC is currently in discussions to establish a northern-based First Nations police force in order to decrease victimization, crime, and incarceration rates.
Our Elders say the answers and solutions to the challenges we face in the Justice and Policing sector lie within our communities. We must concentrate on our strengths, gifts, and resilience in coming up with strategies that are framed by First Nations worldviews, culture, languages, values, traditional laws, and land-based teachings that will complement existing programs and services. Mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical development of youth are key to prevention and intervention. Healthy families lead to peaceful and safe communities.
There are countless studies that have examined the need for comprehensive changes. Recommendations were made in the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples Report. There are calls to action in the Justice Sector that need to be addressed from the Truth and Reconciliation Report on Residential Schools. Prince Albert Grand Council is committed to transformative change and nation building that is rooted in the restoration of balance. Your participation, voice, perspectives and recommendations in this symposium are highly valued.