Thompson, Man., to get new healing lodge for youth in criminal justice system

By Dave Baxter,

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The city of Thompson will soon be home to a brand new youth healing lodge that will work with and assist youth involved in the criminal justice system, and northern and Indigenous officials say the new facility will be a welcome and much-needed addition in northern Manitoba.

“Our youth are the most important assets we have,” Thompson Mayor Colleen Smook said during a Friday media conference at the offices of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc. (MKO) in Winnipeg.

“It’s definitely one of the best things that has happened to Thompson in a long time.”

At Friday’s media conference, Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen joined Smook and MKO Grand Chief Garrisson Settee to announce that the province is providing $2 million in funding to MKO for the creation and operation of a youth healing lodge in Thompson, a city of approximately 13,000 residents that sits 760 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

“This will be transformational I believe for the youth involved in the healing lodge as well as for our understanding of how we do a better job at reducing recidivism and insuring that young people don’t become involved in the justice system,” Goertzen said on Friday.

“Youth criminal justice has changed a lot, and our understanding of it has changed as well.”

The announcement comes just one day after the province announced plans to permanently close the Agassiz Youth Centre in Portage la Prairie due to a decline in incarceration numbers, a move that Goertzen said would allow the province to add capacity for youth criminal justice services in northern Manitoba.

According to the province, the youth community healing lodge is intended to provide more justice resources in the north, reduce youth recidivism rates, and decrease the use of Thompson’s RCMP cells for non-violent and intoxicated youth who are detained.

The province said the first phase of the lodge will provide open-custody correctional services closer to home for northern youth, and that phases two and three will see an expansion to include a healing lodge, enhanced mental health and addiction supports, employment and skills training, and community justice resources.

Smook said that as the mayor of Thompson she has a responsibility to her citizens and to the large number of Indigenous people who call Thompson and the surrounding areas home, and that is another reason she believes the healing centre will an asset in the north.

“In Thompson, we are over 50% Indigenous in our population, so that is why it is very important for me to be included, because I do have to answer for how all the people of Thompson are looked after,” Smook said.

“And it’s very important that Indigenous people are the first people at the table working with us.”

Settee said he believes the healing lodge will have a positive impact on Indigenous youth in northern Manitoba.

In Manitoba, Indigenous youth are significantly overrepresented in the criminal justice system, and in incarceration rates, as data from a Statistics Canada study released in 2018 showed that 81% of boys incarcerated as minors in Manitoba were Indigenous, while for girls that number sat at 82%.

“For many years First Nations leaders have been advocating for realistic and immediate strategies in how to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the justice system, and especially our youth,” Settee said.

“So this is a good day for us to start being proactive in preventing people from entering into the system.”

Settee said that MKO and the province have been working closely recently in an effort to “transform justice systems in northern Manitoba.”

– Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. Turtle Island News does not receive LJI funding.





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