First Nations leaders in southern Manitoba are looking for public feedback as they continue to seek reforms, while Indigenous people continue to over-represent those involved in the criminal justice system and those who are behind bars in this province.

In January 2021, the federal government was mandated with developing an Indigenous Justice Strategy to address “systemic discrimination” in the criminal justice system and the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the justice system.

The feds were also mandated to develop that strategy “in consultation and cooperation with Indigenous partners, provinces, and territories.”

The Southern Chiefs' Organization (SCO) said that with the federal government seeking Indigenous consultation, a new public survey, which was released online this week and can be filled out anonymously, will help to clarify SCO’s priorities related to the justice system and it asks for feedback on issues like prevention, policing, courts, corrections and victim’s services.

SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said the organization, which represents 34 First Nations communities in southern Manitoba, continues to be alarmed by the number of Indigenous people in this province involved in the justice system, and they hope that direct feedback from citizens could help lead to strategies that bring those numbers down.

In Manitoba, it is estimated that 70 to 80% of adults currently in custody are Indigenous and according to SCO in the last 10 years there has been a 60% increase in the rates of incarceration of Indigenous men and a 139% increase in the rates of incarceration of Indigenous women in this province.

Indigenous youth are also significantly overrepresented in the criminal justice system and in incarceration rates as data from a Statistics Canada study released in 2018 showed that 81% of boys and 82% of girls incarcerated as minors in Manitoba were Indigenous.

“One of my principal mandates is to reduce the overrepresentation of First Nation citizens within the Canadian criminal justice system,” Daniels said in a media release.

“The goal of this survey is to provide our community members with a voice to help develop alternative measures for care that revolve around accountability and personal growth, rather than the current punitive measures of the colonial state.

“The results of this survey will provide First Nations leadership in southern Manitoba with guidance on how we can work to restore balance, health and real justice for our people.”

SCO said they have also worked in recent years to create their own First Nation’s Justice Strategy, and that strategy includes a focus on restorative justice measures and on offering supports and programs that can prevent people from becoming involved in the justice system and prevent them from reoffending.

SCO also has a Restorative Justice Program that serves several southern Manitoba First Nations, and currently has dedicated community justice workers in six of those communities.

“As a leader, I am responsible for working with our Anishinaabe and Dakota Nations, and the more than 81,500 citizens SCO represents to create a more just Manitoba,” Daniels said.

The survey, which consists of 16 questions, can be found by visiting surveymonkey.com/r/SCO-IJS, and scheduled to remain open until Dec. 18.

No identifying information will be collected as part of this survey, and all responses are completely confidential, SCO added.

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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