More than a quarter of federal inmates in Canada are Indigenous. And in the Prairie provinces, Indigenous people account for nearly half the federal prison population.
That’s according to statistics released last year by former Correctional Investigator of Canada Howard Sapers.
“It just hurts my heart that the majority of these people are my people,” said Rachel Manichoose from Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation Thursday.
Manichoose was in Edmonton meeting with an advocacy group to mark Prisoners’ Justice Day at the Alberta legislature.
About two-dozen people joined hands in a round dance to raise awareness about the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in Canadian prisons.
“It’s so much more than dancing in a circle,” Manichoose said.
“I want to honour them. I want to honour their lives. I want to honour that they’re not forgotten, they’re always remembered.”
Through incarcerated friends and family, Manichoose said she has heard stories of mental health crises, drug abuse and death in prison.
“There’s no justice,” she said. “We need to be the voice for them — we need to show them that they matter, too.”
Rehabilitation, not punishment
Taz Bouchier helped organize Thursday’s round dance.
She worked as an institutional elder at the Edmonton Remand Centre for half a decade, until 2013.
Correctional Service Canada needs to work with Indigenous communities to stop cycles of crime and incarceration, Bouchier said.
“People get out of jail and it’s better to have rehabilitation programming versus punishment models,” she said.
Including families in the healing process is crucial, she added.
“When someone’s incarcerated, it ripples out like a pond,” Bouchier said.
“We need to understand that families are grieving their lost ones and they want them to get well just as much as anyone else but they want them to be safe within these places that they’re incarcerated in.”
Thursday marked the 43rd annual Prisoners’ Justice Day in Canada.