August 5, 2020

Native Council program aiming to keep Indigenous youth out of justice system

A new program is aiming to connect off-reserve Indigenous youth who are in conflict with the law with their traditional teachings in hopes of keeping them out of the justice system.
The Native Council of P.E.I.'s "Coming Full Circle" program is voluntary. It targets youth between the ages of 11 and 18.
It's a form of alternative justice the Native Council and its partners hope will allow Indigenous youth to heal and connect with their culture.
Lisa Cooper, chief of Native Council of P.E.I., said through traditional teachings like the Medicine Wheel, Indigenous youth will learn to develop the traditional and cultural tools they need to live a balanced, traditional and healthier lifestyle. She hopes that will also reduce the likelihood of them re-offending.
"We've been wanting this for quite a while and to be able to do this, especially with our Indigenous youth, because there is an over representation of aboriginal people in the justice system so why not get them before they get there," said Cooper. "So, if they are in conflict with the law, they're not quite there yet, so can we change them around at that point? We believe we can."
'Part of that healing process'
Cooper believes systemic racism is at the root of that over representation of Indigenous people in the justice system. She said putting them in jail, only to have them re-offend, is not the answer.
"A lot of them suffer from residential schools, childhood trauma, intergenerational trauma," said Cooper.
"We need to be part of that healing process."
In 2018-19, the Native Council conducted a justice survey of its off-reserve members.
The survey indicated underlying barriers that off-reserve Indigenous people can face, "...with a high rate of responses on diagnosed mental health issues, addiction, and anger issues" says a background document on the "Coming Full Circle" program produced by the Native Council.
Charlottetown Deputy Police Chief Sean Coombs said he believes the program will make a difference for many Indigenous youth.
'We're out on the street'
Front-line officers will connect the Indigenous youth with the police department's in-house youth worker who would then direct them to the "Coming Full Circle" program.
"We're out on the street and we're going to be able to see Indigenous youth that are high risk or possibly getting in trouble with the law and we will be able to be the first contact to decide whether they're someone who would be a good candidate for the program," said Coombs.
Coombs describes high risk youth as those who may be homeless, using drugs or abusing alcohol.
The "Coming Full Circle" program has just been launched. It is one of many programs the Native Council offers.
The hope is once the youth enter the program, they will be able to find other supports, including the Indigenous skills and employment training program, programs to help off-reserve members who may be experiencing homelessness as well as programs aimed at caregivers and guardians of high-risk children to educate them on the history of their culture.
Cooper said she hopes the Indigenous youth who complete the program will stay in the program to mentor others.
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About the Author
Wayne Thibodeau is a reporter/editor with CBC Prince Edward Island. He has worked as a reporter, editor, photographer and video journalist in print, digital and TV for more than 20 years. He can be reached at Wayne.Thibodeau@CBC.ca