By David Baxter
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A Manitoba Grand Chief who toured a provincial prison recently said he took time during the tour to speak one-on-one with inmates, to get a better idea of what they have dealt with in their own lives, and what circumstances ultimately led to them ending up behind bars.
“Many of the inmates shared their personal journeys, and how they ended up in the correctional system,” Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Inc. Grand Chief Garrison Settee said in a news release, after recently touring the Headingley Correctional Centre, a provincial prison that sits just west of Winnipeg, and houses more than 500 minimum, medium and maximum-security inmates.
During his tour, Settee said he met with more than 30 inmates and learned that many had stories to tell about what put them on a path that led to imprisonment.
“Some men couldn’t hold back their emotions while telling me about their childhood experiences of growing up around alcohol, drugs, and dysfunctional home environments,” Settee said.
“These lived realities left the men with a lack of hope for the future.”
MKO currently represents citizens of 26 Manitoba First Nations, and Settee said that while touring the facility he learned some concerning information about the overrepresentation of Indigenous people at Headingley.
“Staff shared that between 70 to 75% of inmates were Indigenous, with about 80% of incarcerated youth being Indigenous,” Settee said.
And according to Settee, many of the inmates he spoke with and spent time with told him that they have dealt with trauma because of systems that he said have led to ongoing and intergeneration trauma for generations of Indigenous people in this province, and across the country.
“A recurring theme I heard during my visit to Headingley was that the majority of the inmates sadly have a personal family connection to the child welfare system and/or the residential school system,” Settee said.
“The intergenerational trauma and the legacy of residential schools contributes to their life within the correctional system.”
Settee is now also calling for more support for Indigenous people when they get out of prison, because he said without those supports, many end up right back behind bars.
“Some men told me about the challenges they face when leaving the institution with a lack of community programs, and supports to gain employment,” he said.
“Many of them end up being re-incarcerated.”
Settee said he was pleased to see that corrections facilities in Manitoba are continuing to offer culturally- relevant programming for Indigenous inmates, which he said can go a long way towards helping inmates deal with and heal from their own trauma, and make positive changes for their own futures.
Settee plans to continue visiting correctional centres across the province of Manitoba, and said he will “continue to listen to MKO citizens living and working within these institutions to learn about ways MKO can support rehabilitation and reconciliation.”
He added that MKO “will also use this knowledge to advocate for improvements within the justice system.”
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.