The Senate's Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples is visiting communities across the prairies to learn more about what a nation-to-nation relationship would mean to First Nation and Métis people.
Members of the Senate Standing Committee, including Chair Lillian Dyck, visited the Saskatchewan Penitentiary to learn what that relationship would look like for inmates and their families, and to learn more about the current conditions. Dyck said she and her fellow Senators were unsure of what to expect from the visit, though she said "forgotten people" was a common theme which has come up throughout their visits to prairie communities.
Dyck said one inmate asked the senators to address the issues which had put him in his current situation, including foster care and group homes, as well as drugs and alcohol.
“It's like no matter what happens, all of these awful things happen,” Dyck said. “A big part of nation-to-nation would be erasing all of that and putting us all on equal footing.”
Sen. Scott Tannas, deputy chairman of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, said his fellow senator Kim Pate suggested the group visit the Saskatchewan Penitentiary in order to include inmates in the discussion process. During the visit, Tannas said senators and inmates discussed the challenges inmates have with the corrections system, as well as what can be done to ensure future generations didn’t wind up trapped within the same systems.
“That was very moving. I’m glad we did that. I was one of the ones who was a little nervous about it, but it turned out wonderfully,” Tannas said.
Although members of the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples are visiting Winnipeg tomorrow, the Saskatchewan Penitentiary was the only correctional facility the Senators will visit on their tour. Tannas said the group felt as though they got enough information to move forward from the inmates in Prince Albert.
Sen. Dan Christmas said the visit to the Saskatchewan Penitentiary left him heartbroken.
“It’s just tragic how, in Canada, life can be so hard for Indigenous people,” Christmas said, adding it was hard to hear stories from inmates about their experiences in foster care, group homes, their battles with addiction, or the other traumas the inmates experienced in life.
Another challenging part of meeting the inmates, for Christmas, was hearing how they were treated in the institution. He said it was obvious the inmates live in a racist environment where they don’t get the same level of service as their non-Indigenous counterparts. Christmas said he left the facility questioning the standards for cultural competence which employees of Corrections Canada must adhere to.
“It’s bad enough that you have broken people in those institutions, and then when you have people who are not properly and competently and culturally trained to appreciate Indigenous people in their context, that’s even worse,” Christmas said.
He said he will take his experience at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary with him back to Ottawa, to properly address his questions.
“I feel quite disgusted by that situation, and I can tell you I feel strongly motivated that those questions have to be asked,” Christmas said. “I think as a senator I deserve some straight answers, and if those aren’t answers are not right, let’s change it. Let’s make it better as best we can.”
On Twitter: @BryanEneas
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