A Manitoba woman who has turned her life around after spending years in jail says she's not surprised to hear that the number of aboriginal women serving time in federal prisons has jumped by almost 100 per cent within a decade.
A 2013 study by the federal Justice Department and obtained by The Canadian Press shows that the number of aboriginal women serving time in federal institutions grew 97 per cent between 2002 and 2012.
- Big spike in aboriginal women behind bars, study finds
- Aboriginal corrections report finds 'systemic discrimination'
The report did not shock Rachel Willan, who had been in and and out of provincial jail for two decades as she struggled with a drug addiction.
Willan said while she was behind bars, she quickly realized that most of her fellow inmates were also aboriginal women.
"Loss of identity is number one. If you don't love yourself and you don't know how to, you're never going to learn to love anybody else," she told CBC News on Tuesday night.
The federal report found common threads among aboriginal women in the criminal justice system.
They tended to be slightly younger than non-aboriginal women, had less education and struggled to find work. Substance abuse was also rife among female aboriginal prisoners.
Pam Palmater, chair of the Centre for Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University, noted that the federal Office of the Correctional Investigator has long been calling the over-representation of Canada's indigenous people in jails a crisis.
"Everything's getting better for Canadians — the homicide rate goes down, violence rates go down, education and salaries go up for everyone else except indigenous people. And indigenous women are at the very bottom of those indicators," Palmater said.
"Instead of anyone in the government taking any steps to address it, it's actually getting worse."
As for Willan, she credits a judge with giving her a break in 2007 that gave her an opportunity to overcome her drug addiction. She is currently studying social work so she can learn to help other women.