By Dave Baxter
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Manitoba signed agreements with First Nations organizations that will transfer control of a program that assists Indigenous people involved in the justice system over to Indigenous communities, the province announced on Tuesday.
Manitoba Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen said the service delivery agreements with the Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF), Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), and the Southern Chiefs’
Organization (SCO) allow work to transfer operation of the Indigenous Court Work Program to begin.
The program provides services for Indigenous people who are involved in the criminal justice system to obtain “fair, just, equitable and culturally-relevant support.”
Goertzen said the transfer of the program was first initiated in
2021 based on feedback from Indigenous communities, and with a goal of lowering the number of Indigenous people in this province who become involved in the criminal justice system.
“The Manitoba government remains committed to working with our community partners through this valuable program to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system,” Goertzen said in a release.
As well, several high-profile reports, including the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry, and the Final Report of the National Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, have recommended Indigenous social and justice programs to be more closely linked to Indigenous communities.
“We know that supporting Indigenous-led solutions is imperative to making meaningful progress on the path to reconciliation, and we look forward to ongoing meaningful reciprocal and respectful relationships that ensure appropriate services and supports are being delivered,” Goertzen said.
The program currently offers connections to resource agencies and court officials, services that are made available in Indigenous languages, victim services, and assistance for families of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people.
Goertzen added the province is also finalizing a similar agreement with the Island Lake Tribal Council (ILTC) and he expects to have all agreements finalized “in the near future.”
The province will support the program transition by providing grants of more than $1 million a year for two years to the four organizations, according to Goertzen.
The signing of the agreements was praised by SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels, who said he believes that once the transfer is complete, it will have an immediate impact on Indigenous communities in Manitoba, and allow more Indigenous people to receive what he called “true justice.”
“The Southern Chiefs’ Organization is looking forward to providing this valuable service to make an immediate impact in the courtroom for our citizens,” Daniels said in a media release.
“We also expect this service to have far-reaching significance for our First Nations.”
The agreements were also praised by MMF Justice Minister Julyda Lagimodiere, who said there is currently a need for “Metis-led” supports in the criminal justice system.
“The transfer of responsibility for the Indigenous Court Work Program is a step towards ensuring that Red River Metis people will have access to support services within the court system,” Lagimodiere said.
“With the overrepresentation of Indigenous Peoples in Canada’s criminal justice system, there remains a strong need for Metis-led, culturally appropriate support and assistance.”
-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.