It’s been a busy year for the Justice Department of the Cree Nation. Between the ground breakings for the new justice facilities to the adoption of innovative new programs, the Justice Department has been working hard at making Eeyou Istchee safer for everyone.
The newly created Department of Justice has been growing rapidly over the past year. It has started building a number of the justice facilities in the Cree communities and by next year there will be four new facilities. These facilities are only a telltale of what is coming in the years ahead.
The department received word that they were approved for strategic funding to initiate a Jobs Not Jails program for Crees who are currently incarcerated in a detention facility. Donald Nicholls, the department’s interim Justice Director, sees this as important as it will help assess the needs of those detained, and work to provide support, skills and training to prepare detainees for work opportunities and programs when they return to their communities.
This is part of the philosophy that detention should not be an end but it can be a beginning, which the department is moving forward with. The idea is that this is an opportunity to work with Crees to bring them home with more options in their lives and to plan what support they might need at the community level. This program will be coordinated with the CRA Correctional Services Office in Amos and the justice officers based out of the communities.
The Cree Justice Department is also currently interviewing and selecting justice officers and reintegration officers for each of the nine communities. These resources will help provide a local link between the justice system and the community. It will allow the community to have a voice, and these officers will be developing programs and resources locally throughout the Cree Nation.
Justice officers will work with the courts, community justice panels and local services to operate programs that will reduce and prevent crime, as well as programs to improve the justice system locally. The reintegration officers will work with Cree who have either gone to detention or have been put on conditions within the communities.
“They will work on providing support groups locally, and link with social services and other entities to ensure that people are assessed for any needs and to develop programs so Cree people can reintegrate successful back into our communities,” said Nicholls.
Nicholls went on to explain that the department is also currently working on implementing the Stop Now and Plan (SNAP) program in the Cree communities. This will allow the department to work with children from the ages of 6-11 who have been identified by schools or local police as having aggressive tendencies.
This program has been successful worldwide, and teaches children through a number of exercises how not to lash out at other children. Instead they are taught ways to cope with their anger or frustration. It is expected this will lead to a reduction in aggression in the classrooms and communities in general. The program will impact over 200 students, and will also provide some sessions for parents on helping their children with their aggression.
“It will help lead to safer schools, and will be an investment in our children and future,” said Nicholls.
Using a comprehensive approach, the department has also done some planning when it comes to other aspects of society. It has been working with the Cree Women of Eeyou Istchee on trying to secure funding for a Cree symposium on domestic violence within the Cree Nation.
“From many reports over the years, we know this is a problem that needs to be addressed,” Nicholls said.
A white-ribbon campaign has already started within the Cree Nation and the Cree School Board has indicated that they will be devoting days in schools to non-violence and awareness.
According to Nicholls, now is an opportune time for the Cree to look at these issues and reduce incidents within the communities. The symposium will be an opportunity for Crees as a Nation to develop plans together and establish programs within their communities and entities to address and reduce domestic violence.
“We are also developing a youth mentorship program within the communities to help reduce incidents with older youth and the law,” said Nicholls.
With counselling and mentoring, youth will have the opportunity to hear firsthand the type of lifestyle associated with gangs and other anti-social behaviour.
“If you wish to travel this road, it is good to have a perspective from people who have lived this life. Or, in the case of a mentor like Rick Osborne, who has spent more than 20 years in prison because of choices he made when he was young,” he said.
Nicholls said that if you have not had the opportunity to go to www.creejustice.ca and fill out a youth or adult survey, you should. “We are going to draw for the iPod touches soon and you could win one,” he said.