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Message from Chief Evans

On Thursday, May 19, 2016, Council and I visited Stony Mountain Institution and met with the inmates from NHCN. This is now our second visit to Stony Mountain as a Council. In my former role as Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, I had the opportunity to visit the inmates from First Nations communities at Stony Mountain. It was an important endeavor to connect with inmates, to show my support to them to ensure that their voices were heard. We often hear of negative incidents that occur in institutions and it is important that as leadership we are there for all individuals we represent to ensure that their issues are also dealt with and that they are treated fairly. That experience left an incredibly positive impression on me and I know it had a positive impact on the inmates with whom I met with.

When I was re-elected Chief of Norway House Cree Nation in 2011, I felt it was important that Council and I make a point of visiting with the membership of NHCN. Our first visit was planned in December, 2012. We have now had the opportunity to build a relationship with the Warden and Deputy Warden and with the department of Aboriginal Initiatives, who have taken the time to assist us in planning our visits, and meeting with us to discuss how we can work together to provide support to our membership, as grave as the circumstances they have been involved in that has led them to be incarcerated, in their healing and rehabilitative journey. The Warden, Deputy Warden and Aboriginal Initiatives, have spoken highly about the initiative we have undertaken as a Council to visit our membership. They are encouraged by it, and have been witness to the positive impact it has had on the inmates. 

This year, we were blessed to have Bishop Mark MacDonald, National Indigenous Bishop for the Anglican Church join us for the visit. As the Indigenous Bishop for the Anglican Church, he became aware of our visit, was encouraged by our initiative and was moved to join us.

Councilor Loretta Bayer, Justice Portfolio Holder for NHCN in reflecting on the visit states, "It's not that we condone the behaviour that results within our members being incarcerated at this level, nor do we think it's appropriate to place anymore judgment on these individuals. It's important to instill hope and optimism in the road to healing for our members. We have seen good, positive results; we have heard and felt the gratitude from the inmates, both on the inside and after the visits take place." 

Councilor Darlene Osborne, Education Portfolio Holder for NHCN stated that, "it was indeed a privilege and a blessing to visit the young men (NHCN Band Members) at the penitentiary. Just by us being there, the inmates we met with have all expressed the desire to change their behaviour and especially their addictions that have lead them to be incarcerated. I know that one kind act or one word of encouragement can change a life forever, as they strive in their healing journey to become a better person."

Eileen Apetagon, NHCN Executive Director of Programs and Services shared her experience and stated that "It was a privilege to have been given the opportunity to be a part of the Stony Mountain Penitentiary site visit and I wish to convey my utmost gratitude to our leadership for arranging the visit to happen. It was very emotional to come into contact with our young men within the institution but at the same time had some very positive moments that came with a lot of laughter. Overall, it was a great experience and I look forward to going back for another visit."

Melanie Mowatt, NHCN Restorative Community Justice Worker stated, "Our visit to the institution was a very valuable, productive and emotional experience. I work with inmates almost on a daily basis; not just from this institution but band members from other Provincial and Federal correctional centres. Section 84 and the Path Home: Release Planning Process of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act encourages community participation in the process and this visit was a critical component. The Aboriginal Initiatives Directorate of the Correctional Service of Canada has a mandate to create partnerships and strategies that enhance the safe and timely reintegration of Aboriginal offenders, and as an effective way to restore balance and make reparation for harm done. It allows the principles of restorative justice to become a reality and the beginning of a healing journey in becoming active partners in restoring harmony back to our Community and the premise that the community participation does build safer Communities."

On behalf of NHCN Council I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Warden Robert Bonnefoy, Deputy Warden Janalee Bell- Boychuk, and Manager of Aboriginal Initiatives Murray Monkman for their ongoing support and assistance in organizing these visits. My Council and I would also encourage the leadership of all First Nations communities to take similar initiative and to visit their membership at Stony Mountain. It is an initiative that is welcomed by the institution, and they encourage Manitoba First Nations to contact them to do so. 

"It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but it's lowest ones".  -Nelson Mandela

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