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Oskana Community Correctional Centre ending direct elder services
Published Thursday, March 14, 2019 6:28PM CST
Last Updated Thursday, March 14, 2019 6:58PM CST
For sixteen months, Jason Daniels had been serving time at the Regional Psychiatric Centre in Saskatoon.
He was then moved to the Oskana Community Correctional Centre in Regina last September.
The centre is a half-way house designed to help inmates transition back into society.
Daniels says he and others from the centre have relied heavily on reconnecting with their culture and identity with help of an Indigenous elder.
“It’s really important because when guys are struggling, when they get out, they’re trying to stay out of trouble. I’m not from (Regina) so my only community support is from an elder and it’s through the elder I get my foot on the ground,” said Daniels, who is originally from Alberta.
Local Elder, Archie Weenie has been providing traditional ceremonies like smudging, drumming and sweat lodge and pipe ceremonies since November and Daniels says he has seen many improvements in himself and others.
“He’s done a really great job. He’s a very fair and honest man. He works with a wide variety of people both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. He speaks to the individual on an individual basis. He has group discussions,” added Daniels.
However inmates and staff have been notified by Corrections Service Canada’s (CSC) regional headquarters that the centre will not be renewing Weenie’s contract and there is no word on whether Weenie will be replaced.
“It's a loss of our cultural identity. They're not stopping priests coming to see us or anything like that, when (having an elder) is our church, that’s church to us, to have the sweat lodge, the ceremonies, to smudge every day and pipe ceremonies and to do well and create a sense of wellness with everybody,” said Daniels.
Daniels says an Aboriginal liaison officer will be hired for the centre and will start the position next week. The officer will provide inmates with services in the community but he says it won’t be the same.
“As far as I know, (the centre) hasn’t released any kind of public statement. Now that we are being denied (elder services), its putting people at a position where they no longer have that community support,” said Daniels.
In a statement to CTV News, CSC says it works closely with its criminal justice partners, agencies, organizations and community stakeholders to help Indigenous offenders move back into the community.
CSC had a previous contract with an individual to provide elder services to residents of Oskana, however beginning April, CSC will now be pursuing community contracts with community organizations and will be implemented across Canada.
“This will provide services for gang disaffiliation, addiction support, trauma and life skills. These community organizations may also provide Elder support to offenders on parole. This provides the most effective correctional outcomes,” added Julien Houle, a spokesperson of CSC.
Regina-Wascana MP, Ralph Goodale’s office says they are aware of the situation and are looking into the matter. Goodale added by saying,
“The changes affecting the provision of Elder Services to inmates at Oskana Community Correctional Centre were raised with Minister Goodale’s Constituency Office this week. Our government is committed to ensuring Indigenous offenders have access to culturally appropriate interventions and supports, including Elder services, in order to provide the most effective correctional outcomes and ultimately, contribute to the best public safety results for Canadians. The dedicated Elders who work with offenders are a vital part of our corrections system. Due to privacy reasons, we are not able to comment on specific employees.”
Daniels says he is concerned about him and the other inmates having to reconnect and rebuild trust with a new elder even though they all prefer Weenie’s services. He will continue to voice his concerns.
“Why would we lose our elders when the elders are so vital for change and they’re there to help?” Daniels said.