Indigenous

New women's healing lodge to give offenders option to stay in Manitoba

Indigenous women serving federal prison sentences will now have the option of going to a new healing lodge in Manitoba.

Advocate says it's "a good step for women who have been incarcerated"

The multi-level healing lodge at 105 Aikins Street, will have enough room to accommodate up to 30 people, including the children of the offender. (CBC News)

Indigenous women serving federal prison sentences now have the option of going to a new healing lodge in Manitoba.

Correctional Service Canada announced the signing of an agreement on Tuesday that will see the Eagle Women's Lodge, in Winnipeg's West End, converted from a community residential facility into a healing lodge.

"We're pretty happy about this opportunity," said Annetta Armstrong, executive director of the Indigenous Women's Healing Centre (the former Native Women's Transition Centre). The organization has 40 years of experience working with Indigenous women and will be managing the facility.

"It's a good step for women who have been incarcerated to have this as a resource," said longtime advocate and grandmother Leslie Spillett.

The multi-level healing lodge at 667 Ellice Avenue will have enough room to accommodate up to 30 people, including offenders' children.

Leslie Spillett is a long-time Indigenous advocate in Winnipeg. She says a new healing lodge in Winnipeg is a step in the right direction for Indigenous women in the justice system. (Travis Golby/CBC)

"Like all federal women's correctional institutions in Canada, it will have the capacity to safely house women with young children as deemed appropriate to foster relationships between babies and toddlers and their mothers," Correctional Service Canada said in a news release.

According to Statistics CanadaIndigenous women represented 42 per cent of admissions to territorial and provincial adult female prisons in 2017-2018.

Healing lodge first in Manitoba

Spillett has visited other healing lodges in Canada and said that Indigenous women need better alternatives to incarceration. 

She said the Eagle Women's Lodge is the result of years of collaboration between Indigenous community organizations in Winnipeg, which have been working to transition Indigenous women out of the criminal justice system.

Up until now, Indigenous women in Manitoba sentenced to federal time have had to serve their sentences out of province. The Eagle Women's Lodge will be the first of its kind in Manitoba, allowing inmates to serve their sentences much closer to home.

Spillett is hoping that it will give Indigenous women a chance to connect with land based activities. 

She also acknowledges the expertise of the Indigenous Women's Healing Centre Inc. the group running the lodge.

"If any organization has a chance of doing it right, it's the [Indigenous Women's Healing Centre]," said Spillett.

"They've had so many years of experience of working with women who are trapped in those kinds of systems."

Closer to community and culture

Back in 2008, Candace Abdilla was sentenced to 30 months in prison. She grew up in Winnipeg and was separated from her children when she had to serve her time out of province.

She spent ten months at the Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge for Aboriginal Women in Maple Creek, Sask, and learned how to bead while she was there. 
Candace Abdilla was first introduced to her culture at a healing lodge. (Lenard Monkman)

"That was the first time I was regularly exposed to culture," said Abdilla, who now works at a women's centre in Winnipeg's West End.

She said a new facility in Winnipeg will allow more than just the women to heal in their community.

"[The healing lodge] will help their families as well, because then you're not so far away from your children," said Abdilla

The Eagle Women's Lodge will be the 10th healing lodge run by Correctional Service Canada, six of which are managed by Indigenous communities.

According to Armstrong, the West End facility will be the second healing lodge in Canada geared specifically for Indigenous women. 

In a press release, Correctional Service Canada said that research from 2015 found that out of 40 women released on parole from a healing lodge in Edmonton, only one was convicted of a new charge.

The healing lodge is hoping to accept minimum security women beginning in the fall of 2019.

About the Author

Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He is the co-founder of Red Rising Magazine and has been an associate producer with the CBC's Indigenous unit for three years. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1