Justice and Rights

In Manitoba, 75 per cent of adults admitted into custody are Indigenous (First Nation, Metis and Inuit), and in the last ten years there has been a 60 per cent increase in the incarceration of Indigenous men, and a 139 per cent increase in the incarceration of Indigenous women. Manitoba has the highest number of incarcerated Indigenous women in Canada and the highest youth incarceration rates in Canada (19 youth per 10,000 population).

This has to change.

*Statistics from: Statistics Canada

First Nations Justice Strategy

The First Nations Justice Strategy is a community-based program that provides quality, confidential support through restorative justice interventions and mediations.

Southern Chiefs Organization (SCO) strives to support justice through traditional systems of governance and law. Our mandate is to reduce the overrepresentation of First Nation citizens within the Canadian criminal justice system. Our goals are to provide our community members with alternative measures for care that revolve around accountability and personal growth, rather than the current punitive measures of the colonial state.

As First Nation people, we carry the responsibility to care for our communities and view justice as a way to restore balance within our communities.

Restorative Justice

The Restorative Justice Program serves a number of First Nations and has dedicated Community Justice Workers (CJWs) in six communities: Brokenhead, Pinaymootang, Pine Creek, Sandy Bay, Sagkeeng, and Waywayseecappo. 

The program also serves Lake Manitoba, Lake St. Martin, Little Saskatchewan, Dauphin River, Skownan, O-Chi-Chak-Ko-Sipi, Black River, Long Plain, and Ebb and Flow and beyond.

The CJW’s main emphasis is to assist all affected parties within any specific case relating to justice. This encompasses assisting and healing the individual who has done the wrong, the victim and/or family of the victim, and the rest of the affected community.

The CJW’s create productive dialogue, input and participation of all parties involved, including emphasis on the victim(s) and the community. They assist in restoring balance and positive well being for the individual who has committed the offence, the victim(s), and those who have been indirectly affected.

The CJW’s facilitates and maintains a Community Justice Committee (CJC) whose members are called on for their knowledge, respect, and wisdom. CJC members are not a judge or a jury and they make every effort to understand the underlying issues that led to the wrongdoing.

The three key areas of focus for the CJW’s revolve around Prevention, Diversion and Reintegration.


Prevention focuses on grassroots intervention by working with the CJC, local Chief and Council and key stakeholders within the community to provide support and programming geared towards traditional and cultural practices. Prevention includes working with the youth and young adults within a community to assist in their personal well-being and create balance in their lives. This may involve working with Elders and traditional knowledge keepers through traditional teachings and ceremony. Other mediations include preventative programming dealing with anger, substance abuse, domestic and family supports, physical health and mental health supporting programs. Other alternative programming is also considered.


The following options will be available for cases relating to Diversion:

Court: Youth and adults may participate in diversionary referrals. Cases may be referred by the Crown or a Judge.

Police: The local police detachment can refer clients to the First Nations Justice Strategy (FNJS). These referrals are usually done prior to any charges being laid, and therefore they bypass the court system. These are called pre-charge referrals.

The Community: Probation officers and other community organizations may utilize the FNJS for mediation or other restorative processes. These kinds of referrals are particularly helpful when action needs to be taken, but the person or people harmed do not want the formality of court action.


Working closely with Federal and Provincial Correctional Institutions, the CJC and CJW’s assist with community members who are being supervised in the community, and those who are currently incarcerated and are wishing to return to their home communities and their supports, family and livelihood. Once in the community, wrap around care is provided through further prevention in order to reduce recidivism rates.

Impact of the Restorative Justice Program

“I am writing in regards to the diversion program that I was lucky to take part in. When I was accepted to be a part of the Restorative Justice diversion program in Sagkeeng, I was in a dark place that ultimately led me to make decisions that affected my mental health and well being. I learned about triggers and coping mechanisms that I had no idea how to utilize before; I learned about the traditional values and medicines that help with individuals that need healing; like myself. I also learned that it’s ok to not be ok, and that the effects alcohol had on me and my life were not permanent and were very much fixable, I just had to put in the work and stay committed on this red road I’ve been lucky enough to walk on and begin my healing journey. My eyes were open, but they weren’t open wide enough to see the damage and repercussions and hurt I was causing to the people around me. Working with the diversion program through SCO was my first step on this new life and journey I am now living, I no longer drink and work in the field of addiction and mental health.. Chi- Meegwetch.”

– Client from Sagkeeng First Nation

“My experience in dealing with the Restorative Justice program and the justice committee has been a positive one.. My concerns were dealt with and usually in a speedy manner. The things the justice committee requested of me were all relevant to what led me to them in the first place.. I appreciate everything the committee and particularly Crystal and Jessica have done to help me with reinstatement..a big thanks to the justice committee and everything they have done to help me along.”

– Client from Brokenhead Ojibway Nation

“The medicine wheel has helped me in many ways and I’ve learned to address my problems and concerns in different ways. Doing the Restorative Justice Program… has been very helpful to where I understand more about the medicine wheel and how it works. The opportunity to go through this difficult and stressful situation with someone who understands what you are going through, that guides you through the painful decisions that need to be made, is a valuable service that helps both sides get to a resolution the easiest way possible. Anger doesn’t help any situation; it just causes more problems. Emotions are powerful drivers to the human psyche and the decision-making process which also makes it hard at times to do right. Having the medicine wheel to look at as a reminder is a powerful tool to remind yourself and others that making the right decision is a must for a positive future. The medicine wheel helps and teaches you with structure, emotions, communication, values and history.”

– Client from Sagkeeng First Nation

“I’m here to say how thankful I am for all the help and support I got from the Restorative Justice programs, it was a pleasure… I am very happy to be done all the courses. I have learned a lot.”

– Client from Pinaymootang First Nation

“Thank you for everything and getting me to be a better person than I was before. I realized a lot going through the Restorative Justice program with you.”

– Client from Pine Creek First Nation

“Learning about the Medicine Wheel has been so good for me because I now know so much more about all the parts of myself.  Learning that eating has a big impact on my whole self.  I’m learning to see that alcohol can also have a negative impact on my life.”

– Client from Waywayseecappo First Nation

SCO Community Justice Workers (CJWs)

The FNJS currently has dedicated Community Justice Workers (CJWs) in five Manitoba First Nations: Brokenhead, Pinaymootang, Sandy Bay, Sagkeeng, and Bloodvein.

The program also serves Lake Manitoba, Lake St. Martin, Little Saskatchewan, Dauphin River, Skownan, O-Chi-Chak-Ko-Sipi, Black River, Long Plain, and Ebb and Flow and beyond.

The program accepts referrals for Indigenous clients who live off-reserve in surrounding communities.

Jessica Bridges – Brokenhead Ojibway Nation

Communities served:

  • Brokenhead Ojibway Nation

Provincial Circuit Court Attended:

  • Selkirk

Bonnie Woodhouse – Pinaymootang First Nation

Communities served:

  • Pinaymootang First Nation
  • Lake Manitoba First Nation
  • Lake St. Martin First Nation
  • Little Saskatchewan First Nation
  • Dauphin River First Nation

Provincial Circuit Courts Attended:

  • Ashern
  • Martin
  • Lundar

Community Justice Worker – Community TBD

Communities served:

  • Skownan First Nation
  • O-Chi-Chak-Ko-Sipi First Nation (Crane River)

Provincial Circuit Courts Attended:

  • Dauphin
  • Camperville
  • Swan River

Andrea Swampy – Sagkeeng First Nation

Communities served:

  • Sagkeeng First Nation
  • Black River First Nation

Provincial Circuit Court Attended:

  • Pine Falls

Arnold Spence – Sandy Bay First Nation

Communities served:

  • Sandy Bay First Nation
  • Long Plain First Nation
  • Ebb & Flow First Nation

Provincial Circuit Courts Attended:

  • Portage La Prairie
  • Amaranth


How to Apply for Legal Aid

Judges – Manitoba Courts (PDF)