Indigenous inmates at the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre may soon get the opportunity to participate in a cultural sweat ceremony, all while behind bars.
In 2014, the institution's community advisory board made its first recommendation to the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to build a sweat lodge – a round shaped structure with heated stones, along with a ceremony performed inside, often led by an elder.
The chair of the advisory board, Rebecca Howse, said the push came after the board received feedback from Indigenous inmates and several correctional officers at the EMDC.
"They were aware of the positive effect that a sweat lodge has for First Nations people to connect…with more traditional, cultural practices or to reconnect with them while inside an institution," said Howse – hopeful a sweat lodge will help with rehabilitation.
The board has yet to receive final approval from the ministry. However, Howse said EMDC's admitting and discharge unit is currently under construction for an expansion project. She's hopeful a green space – half the size of a soccer field – surrounding the reconstructed building will be devoted to a sweat lodge and a teepee, installed by the end of 2018.
'Focus on the good'
Kevin Broadbent, a Rainy River First Nations man, said a sweat lodge would have helped him while he was behind bars at the EMDC more than a decade ago.
"When the [institution] shifts the focus on the good that's in the person, then that good really does come out," he told CBC News.
"When the person receives the right teachings and they can focus on the good on themselves, it empowers them, it gives them that fight to see it through and stay on that right path."
Inmates who are interested in participating in a ceremonial sweat would have to go through EMDC's native inmate liaison officer, who facilitates counselling using traditional practices such as a pipe and medicine wheel. An elder would then be invited to conduct a sweat ceremony once a week.
The ministry confirmed that more than 40 employees at EMDC received Indigenous awareness training – which includes cultural and historical lessons and conversations with Indigenous correctional officers – in July. More training sessions are planned for next month to include the rest of the jail's workforce.
EMDC has recently come under fire for not ensuring the safety of inmates after a London judge released a video, showing a gruesome attack at the jail.
One London lawyer has even gone so far as to say the institution should be torn down and replaced with a more modern facility to help stop the increasing violence.