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'Changing lives through law' goal of new outreach program for Indigenous youth in Thunder Bay

A Canadian charity, Level, is launching an education and mentorship program at a Thunder Bay elementary school to help children, between the ages of 11 and 14, learn more about the justice system, and maybe even consider a career in law.

Program brings together law students and elementary school students in justice education project

Lisa Del Col, director of programs with the Canadian charity Level, says the goal of the Indigenous Youth Outreach Program is to reduce alienation between young people and the legal system. (Level)

A Canadian charity, Level, is launching an education and mentorship program at a Thunder Bay elementary school to help children, between the ages of 11 and 14, learn more about the justice system, and maybe even consider a career in law.

The mission of the national organization is to drive change by disrupting prejudice, building empathy and advancing human rights, said Lisa Del Col, the director of programs at Level, which states it's "changing lives through law" on its website.

She explained that beginning in mid-February, the grade six and seven classes at Kingsway Park Public School will take part in the Indigenous Youth Outreach Program (IYOP).

Indigenous teachings, sentencing circle part of program

Level, a national charity is starting an Indigenous Youth OutreachProgram at a Thunder Bay elementary school. The goal is to teach young people about their rights, and to build relationships between lawyers and young people.. 4:43

A volunteer – in this case a student in the Faculty of Law at Lakehead University in the northwestern Ontario city – will run a variety of workshops on the Canadian criminal justice system, "but acknowledging right off the bat this is a colonial system," she said.

Therefore, Indigenous legal traditions and teachings will be incorporated into the program as well.

"We do a mock sentencing circle, we do smudging and we incorporate the eagle feather into the curriculum as well," said Del Col.

Recent Statistics Canada numbers show that Indigenous young people account for eight per cent of the Canadian population, but make up 46 per cent of incarcerated youth, said Del Col, who is of Algonquin, Italian and Finnish descent.

"We feel [those numbers] are unacceptable and really speak to the systemic issues faced by Indigenous communities across Canada," she said, adding that the IYOP is an attempt to reduce those statistics.

'Build relationships, reduce alienation' 

Thunder Bay was chosen as a site for the project, in part because of its history of systemic problems between Indigenous people and the justice system, said Del Col.

"We all know there are some really negative impacts of the justice system on Indigenous communities and youth, so we're trying to build those relationships and really involve the youth in the justice system in a positive way in the hopes of advancing reconciliation and reducing alienation," she said.

Those problems have been highlighted in reports published in December 2018 by the provincial Office of the Independent Police Review Director, who examined how city police investigate the deaths and disappearances of Indigenous people, as well as report on the actions and attitudes of the Thunder Bay Police Services Board, prepared by Senator Murray Sinclair on behalf of the Ontario Civilian Police Commission.

They were also noted through the recommendations of a coroner's inquest examining the deaths of seven young Indigenous people, who had left their home  in remote communities to attend school in Thunder Bay.

Goal is 'to walk beside each other, to listen'

Del Col said she wants volunteers to approach the program from the mindset of being an ally "because they're going to learn just as much from the youth, as the youth are going to learn from them."

The goal of the program is "for people to walk together, to walk beside each other, to listen to each other, to learn from each other."

You can hear the full interview with Lisa Del Col on CBC's Superior Morning here.