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.
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 provides quality, confidential support through restorative justice interventions and mediations as well as a new First Nation Court Worker Program and a Digital Wellness Program.
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.
First Nation Court Workers
In February 2023, SCO announced our new First Nations Court Workers Program.
SCO will have three First Nation Court Workers located across southern Manitoba. They will be working in Portage La Prairie, Selkirk, and Dauphin and will attend circuit court locations, including those in Bloodvein, Berens River, and other court locations within SCO member Nations.
The workers will be responsible for liaising between the court and SCO citizens and their families. They will provide timely connections to legal as well as First Nation resources, located both on and off reserve.
SCO’s First Nations Court Workers will also play a critical role ensuring victims and their families are connected with Victims Services, including those for families of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (or questioning) peoples.
They will work alongside SCO’s well established Community Justice Workers, strengthening SCO’s First Nation Justice Program and overall access to justice supports in a culturally sensitive manner. While Community Justice Workers focus on diversion, reintegration and prevention, First Nations Court Workers will focus on the criminal justice processes, sentencing, appearances, and translation.
The Restorative Justice Program serves a number of First Nations and has dedicated Community Justice Workers (CJWs) in Pinaymootang, Sagkeeng, Sandy Bay, Tootinaowaziibeeng, Brandon, and Winnipeg.
The program also serves Brokenhead, Dakota Tipi, Dauphin River, Ebb and Flow, Lake Manitoba, Lake St. Martin, Little Saskatchewan, Skownan, 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 Anicinabe 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 Anicinabe 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 four Manitoba First Nations: Pinaymootang, Sagkeeng, Sandy Bay and Tootinaowaziibeeng and two CJWs based in Brandon and Winnipeg that provide regional services to surrounding First Nations.
The program also serves Brokenhead, Dakota Tipi, Dauphin River, Ebb and Flow, Lake Manitoba, Bloodvein, and beyond.
The program accepts referrals for Indigenous clients who live off-reserve in surrounding communities.
Jeanine Pelletier – Community Justice Manager
Amanda Chapman – Brandon, MB
Courts attended: Brandon
MacCoy Betcher – Winnipeg, MB
- Bloodvein First Nation
- Berens River First Nation
Provincial Circuit Courts Attended:
- Berens River
Bonnie Woodhouse – Pinaymootang First Nation
- Pinaymootang First Nation
- Lake Manitoba First Nation
- Lake St. Martin First Nation
- Little Saskatchewan First Nation
- Dauphin River First Nation
Provincial Circuit Courts Attended:
Andrea Swampy – Sagkeeng Anicinabe First Nation
- Sagkeeng Anicinabe First Nation
- Brokenhead Ojibway Nation
Provincial Circuit Court Attended:
- Pine Falls
Arnold Spence – Sandy Bay First Nation
- Sandy Bay Ojibway First Nation
- Long Plain First Nation
Provincial Circuit Courts Attended:
Shayle Catagas – Tootinaowaziibeeng Treaty Reserve
- Tootinaowaziibeeng Treaty Reserve
- Ebb and Flow First Nation
Provincial Circuit Courts attended:
Restorative Justice Digital Wellness Program
Guided by the SCO Community Justice Workers, the Restorative Justice Digital Wellness Program consists of five videos and a workbook for First Nation clients.
This new program was created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic as in-person programming was put on hold and clients were prevented from completing their program. The pandemic also created barriers for clients in accessing mental wellness services that would help them heal and move forward in a good way.
The videos feature Elder William Campbell (Ebb and Flow First Nation), Elder Gertrude Ballantyne (Brokenhead Ojibway Nation), mental health therapist Anita Prince (Sagkeeng Anicinabe First Nation), and traditional Knowledge Keeper Cecil Sveinson (Poplar River First Nation) as they discuss the importance of healing through culture and ceremony, as well as how to move forward by making healthier decisions. Topics include abandonment, trauma and healing, coping strategies, as well as cultural teachings and language.