The NeChee Friendship Centre will soon be helping adults who plead guilty of minor crimes to rebuild their family and community relationships through traditional healing practices.
April 29, 2010: Volume 37 #9, Page A9
“We are going to be getting our first diversion in about a month and a half,” said Bob Albany, co-ordinator of NeChee Friendship Centre’s Aboriginal community justice program. “This program already exists in other areas in Ontario through the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres.”
The program’s goal is to work with Aboriginal clients, status, non-status, Metis and Inuit, during a six-month healing plan to emphasize their strengths using the clan roles and responsibilities, Albany said.
“For example, if a person has experience in guiding and fishing, maybe one of their tasks or goals would be to fish but also to learn to give an offering to the community,” Albany said. “Then the community would be using (the fish) for ceremonies, maybe for the Elders, spring feasts, things like that. Another example would be harvesting blueberries, which would go back to the community as well.”
The Crown needs to agree before the clients are allowed to participate in the program, Albany said.
“It is kind of negotiable because of the nature of crimes and offences taking place in Kenora,” Albany said. “Some of these offences involve violence so it all is going to be negotiated and it all has to be screened properly for these clients coming through.”
The goal of the program is to encourage healing for the community and family as well as the offender, Albany said.
“The concept of community justice is not between the victim and the offender only, it has to involve the whole community because at some level the behavior has affected the community over time so it has to become a community (effort) where everybody is involved and everybody has a say,” Albany said. “We’re looking more at the relationship part of it.”
Albany is looking to approach Elders next to gain their guidance for the program.
“The long-term goal is to help people in their healing, maybe to begin healing, maybe to look at some things they haven’t looked at before,” Albany said. “It’s to involve family at some level and it’s to get the community back involved. Hopefully the communities will take more of a responsibility, more of a role in their justice matters so they have more of a say in what happens to their members.”
Community justice differs from restorative justice, Albany said, explaining that restorative justice involves restoring something back to its original state while community justice involves a lifelong approach to healing.
“Everybody is going to heal at a different pace,” Albany said. “People need continued support.”
Albany is excited about the program, explaining he has worked with youth in custody before in a counselling role.
“It is hoped that this will lead to Aboriginal persons and their communities taking more responsibility for justice related matters and sharing a common voice in the role of justice,” Albany said. “There is a need to acknowledge all of the Aboriginal persons, their families, their communities and their clans in their efforts to keep their communities strong and also honour the efforts of the ones who are currently involved in making their communities safe. The process of community justice needs everyone’s help to work.”
The program involves the use of Anishinabe clan roles and responsibilities to encourage clients to build relationships with their families and communities.
“By taking that approach with the clan roles and responsibilities, it takes away a lot of that blame and it takes away a lot of that shame,” he said. “I think it will help community members and also the families to reconnect with some of those values that haven’t been used for a while.”
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