Manitoba

Thompson healing lodge will provide addiction, mental health supports for Indigenous youth in justice system

Thompson will soon get a new health lodge that will help pair northern Indigenous youth in the justice system with culturally informed supports.

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak receives $2M from province to run centre

Grand Chief Garrison Settee of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak says the Thompson-based healing lodge is an important step toward equipping northern First Nations youth with culturally informed supports and addressing overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the justice system. (CBC)

Thompson will soon get a new health lodge that will help pair northern First Nations youth in the justice system with culturally informed supports.

On Friday, Manitoba Justice announced $2 million for the creation of the centre and said more funds would be invested in the future.

The lodge, to be run by Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, aims to bring additional justice resources to the north, reduce recidivism rates and lower the use of Thompson RCMP's holding cells for non-violent, intoxicated youth.

MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee says First Nations leaders have for many years advocated for real, immediate strategies to address overrepresentation of Indigenous people and youth in the justice system.

MKO receives $2M from province to run healing lodge

3 months ago
Duration 2:04
Thompson will soon get a new health lodge that will help pair northern First Nations youth in the justice system with culturally informed supports. On Friday, Manitoba Justice announced $2 million for the creation of the centre and said more funds would be invested in the future.

"This is a good day for us to start being proactive in preventing the young people from entering in those systems," he said.

The announcement comes one day after the province announced plans to shutter the Agassiz Youth Centre in Portage la Prairie due to falling incarceration numbers. Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen said Thursday that closure would enable the government to add capacity in the north.

The $2-million health lodge investment will first be used to provide services closer to home for northern youth and be informed by elders and knowledge keepers, Settee said.

This will be, I believe, transformational for the youth who are involved.- Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen

Those services will include creating local resources such as local, open-custody beds designed to help youth transition back into the community while they're also connected with traditional healing practices, Goertzen said.

"We know that there are many youth that are getting sentenced to youth corrections and are serving their entire sentence often far away from their home, maybe in facilities that don't have the cultural connection to their faith and to their traditions, and that needs to change," Goertzen said at a news conference in Thompson on Friday.

"This will be, I believe, transformational for the youth who are involved."

Phases two and three of the program will include the creation of the healing lodge itself, job and skills training and community justice resources, and increased mental health and addictions supports, according to a news release.

Youth in the Thompson area who are detained under the Intoxicated Persons Detention Act currently are placed in cells in the local RCMP detachment. The health lodge program would provide spaces for those youth and find transitional housing for those at-risk.

Later on, the province says, there will be a "one-stop-shop" for youth to get support with mental health, addictions and housing issues.

Addressing root causes

Jonny Meikle spent time in Manitoba prisons, and later got help through mental health counselling. 

He says many people who end up incarcerated are struggling with trauma and other issues, and putting them in jail doesn't address what got them there.

"You're placing these people that have endured these hardships in a space that hosts trauma. It's not the right environment," he said.

"It's not treatment-oriented, it's not getting to the root of the issues, it's not tackling what's creating those behaviours."

Johnny Meikle spent time in prison and says the lodge is a good first step. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The lodge is a step in the right direction, he said.

Cora Morgan, the family advocate for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, agrees, saying she thinks the lodge will be more effective than incarcerating youth. 

"When you incarcerate individuals, the rate of recidivism is quite high. It sets people up for failure, so to get in front of it and correct harms or prevent crime ... I just think it's really exciting to hear that."

More than half of Thompson's population is Indigenous, Thompson Mayor Colleen Smook says, but she feels a responsibility to the thousands more from surrounding communities that depend on the city as a northern hub.

"Our youth are the most important assets we have," Smook said Friday. "It's definitely one of the best things that's happened to Thompson in a long time."

Smook says the announcement grows from discussions from a decade ago as part of the Thompson Economic Diversification Group, which identified the need for a restorative justice facility that never materialized.

"Obviously we didn't have all the right people at the table at the time," Smook said.

Smook credits action on the health lodge to a community wellbeing and safety action plan that included input from MKO, the province and 29 other organizations in recent years.

Thompson Mayor Colleen Smook says the health lodge stems from input from three dozen northern organizations in recent years as well as collaboration with the provincial government. (CBC)

Settee says MKO and the province have been working closely to transform justice systems in the north to develop culturally relevant programs and service for First Nations youth.

He said the health lodge and programming will save lives.

"They need access to programs and resources to be able to navigate their way from inter-generational impacts of residential schools, the Sixties Scoop, the day schools and the child welfare system," Settee said.

"This is an opportunity for the youth to access the help they need so they don't go into the system any further."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bryce Hoye

Journalist

Bryce Hoye is a multi-platform Manitoba journalist covering news, science, justice, health, 2SLGBTQ issues and other community stories. He has a background in wildlife biology and occasionally works for CBC's Quirks & Quarks and Front Burner. He won a national Radio Television Digital News Association award for a 2017 feature on the history of the fur trade. He is also Prairie rep for outCBC.

With files from Erin Brohman

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