The Justice System and Aboriginal People

The Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission


Chapter 13

View Chapter



Women in Traditional Aboriginal Society
The Attack on Aboriginal Culture

Cultural Changes - The Impact upon Aboriginal Women
The Changing Image of Aboriginal Women

The Abuse of Women and Children

Spousal Abuse
Supports for Abused Aboriginal Women
Child Abuse
Healing the Family and the Community
Dealing with the Abuser
Alcohol, Crime and Abuse

The Sentencing of Aboriginal Women

The Portage Correctional Institution
Co-Correctional Institutions

Parole and Post-Release Issues


Aboriginal Women TOP


Aboriginal women and their children suffer tremendously as victims in contemporary Canadian society. They are the victims of racism, of sexism and of unconscionable levels of domestic violence. The justice system has done little to protect them from any of these assaults. At the same time, Aboriginal women have an even higher rate of over-representation in the prison system than Aboriginal men. In community after community, Aboriginal women brought these disturbing facts to our attention. We believe the plight of Aboriginal women and their children must be a priority for any changes in the justice system. In addition, we believe that changes must be based on the proposals that Aboriginal women presented to us throughout our Inquiry. TOP


Women in Traditional Aboriginal Society TOP

Women traditionally played a central role within the Aboriginal family, within Aboriginal government and in spiritual ceremonies. Men and women enjoyed considerable personal autonomy and both performed functions vital to the survival of Aboriginal communities. The men were responsible for providing food, shelter and clothing. Women were responsible for the domestic sphere and were viewed as both life-givers and the caretakers of life. As a result, women were responsible for the early socialization of children.

Traditional Aboriginal society experienced very little family breakdown. Husbands and wives were expected to respect and honour one another, and to care for one another with honesty and kindness. In matriarchal societies, such as of the Mohawk, women were honoured for their wisdom and vision. Aboriginal men also respected women for the sacred gifts which they believed the Creator had given to them.1

In Aboriginal teachings, passed on through the oral histories of the Aboriginal people of this province from generation to generation, Aboriginal men and women were equal in power and each had autonomy within their personal lives.

Women figured centrally in almost all Aboriginal creation legends. In Ojibway and Cree legends, it was a woman who came to earth through a hole in the sky to care for the earth. It was a woman, Nokomis (grandmother), who taught Original Man (Anishinabe, an Ojibway word meaning "human being") about the medicines of the earth and about technology. When a traditional Ojibway person prays, thanks is given and the pipe is raised in each of the four directions, then to Mother Earth as well as to Grandfather, Mishomis, in the sky.

To the Ojibway, the earth is woman, the Mother of the people, and her hair, the sweetgrass, is braided and used in ceremonies. The Dakota and Lakota (Sioux) people of Manitoba and the Dakotas tell how a woman—White Buffalo Calf Woman—brought the pipe to their people. It is through the pipe that prayer is carried by its smoke upwards to the Creator in their most sacred ceremonies.

The strength that Aboriginal peoples gain today from their traditional teachings and their cultures comes from centuries of oral tradition and Aboriginal teachings, which emphasized the equality of man and woman and the balanced roles of both in the continuation of life. Such teachings hold promise for the future of the Aboriginal community as a whole. We have been told that more and more young Aboriginal people are turning to the beliefs and values of Aboriginal traditions to find answers for the problems which they are facing in this day and age.

Aboriginal author Paula Gunn Allen points out:

Since the coming of the Anglo-Europeans beginning in the fifteenth century, the fragile web of identity that long held tribal people secure has gradually been weakened and torn. But the oral tradition has prevented the complete destruction of the web, the ultimate disruption of tribal ways. The oral tradition is vital: it heals itself and the tribal web by adapting to the flow of the present while never relinquishing its connection to the past.2


This revival is necessitated, in large measure, by the assault that Aboriginal culture has experienced during the last century. TOP


The Attack on Aboriginal Culture TOP

Women were never considered inferior in Aboriginal society until Europeans arrived. Women had few rights in European society at the time of first contact with Aboriginal people. Men were considered their social, legal and political masters. Any rights which women had were those derived through their husbands. The law of England, for example, held that women did not have the right to vote, to own property or to enter into contracts. This attitude was ultimately reflected in the Indian Act, which blatantly discriminated against women.

This attitude toward women continued until relatively recently in Canada. Women had to fight battles in this century to win the right to vote and to be recognized as legal persons, and it was only within the past few decades that the final legal restrictions upon their right to contract and own property were lifted.

The imposition of new values and cultural standards brought about tremendous historical, social and economic changes which, for the most part, were destructive to Aboriginal communities. Dr. Sally Longstaffe of the Child Protection Centre has written:

The razing of Indian societies and their traditions is well-documented. Symptoms of this dislocation are evident in high rates of unemployment, suicide, alcoholism, domestic violence, and other social problems. This loss of tradition has seriously damaged the oral means of preserving cultural norms, and the values which prohibit deviant behaviours have been obscured and often forgotten. Native peoples often appear reluctant to adopt “white” solutions to problems that stem from the latter’s apparent destruction of their societies.3

Economic factors served as the initial catalyst for change within Aboriginal societies. Aboriginal people were first directed away from hunting into the economic order of the fur trade society. Gradually, more and more of them became removed from the land and went into settlements with a welfare economy. These changes to Aboriginal lifestyle distorted the traditional Aboriginal male and female roles.

[W]ith the loss of Indian male roles and as a result of being reduced to a state of powerlessness and vulnerability which their own culture deemed highly inappropriate, Indian men came to experience severe role strain.4

Cultural changes resulting from the economic factors at play had their greatest impact on the role of Aboriginal women. TOP


Cultural Changes—The Impact upon Aboriginal Women TOP

For Aboriginal women, European economic and cultural expansion was especially destructive. Their value as equal partners in tribal society was undermined completely. The Aboriginal inmates in Kingston Prison for Women described the result this way:

The critical difference is racism. We are born to it and spend our lives facing it. Racism lies at the root of our life experiences. The effect is violence, violence against us, and in turn our own violence.5

It is only in the past decade that writers have acknowledged the very important role Aboriginal women played in the first centuries of contact with Europeans and their descendants. Yet, while their role within Aboriginal society remained relatively stable for some time after contact, all that changed completely with the advent of the residential school system.

The victimization of Aboriginal women accelerated with the introduction after Confederation of residential schools for Aboriginal children. Children were removed from their families and homes at a young age, some to return eight to 10 years later, some never to return. The ability to speak Aboriginal languages and the motivation to do so were severely undermined. Aboriginal students were taught to devalue everything Aboriginal and value anything Euro-Canadian.

Many Aboriginal grandparents and parents today are products of the residential school system. The development of parenting skills, normally a significant aspect of their training as children within Aboriginal families, was denied to them by the fact that they were removed from their families and communities, and by the lack of attention paid to the issue by residential schools. Parenting skills neither were observed nor taught in those institutions. Aboriginal children traditionally learned their parenting skills from their parents through example and daily direction. That learning process was denied to several generations of Aboriginal parents. In addition to the physical and sexual abuse that Canadians are now hearing took place in residential schools, emotional abuse was the most prevalent and the most severe.

Not only did residential schools not support the development of traditional parental roles among the children, but they taught the children that they were "pagan"—an inferior state of being—and should never use their language or honour their religious beliefs. These messages were imparted to Aboriginal children in a sometimes brutal manner. Several presenters also pointed out that residential schools not only removed children from their families, but they also prevented any closeness, even contact, from occurring between siblings and relatives at the same school.

The damage done by residential schools is evident today as Aboriginal people, long deprived of parenting skills, struggle with family responsibilities and attempt to recapture cultural practices and beliefs so long denied.

Grand Chief Dave Courchene Sr. put the experience succinctly:

Residential schools taught self-hate. That is child abuse.... Too many of our people got the message and passed it on. It is their younger generations that appear before you [in court].

We believe the breakdown of Aboriginal cultural values and the abuse suffered by Aboriginal chidren in the schools contributed to family breakdown. This began a cycle of abuse in Aboriginal communities, with women and children being the primary victims.

The Canadian government also undermined equality between Aboriginal men and women with the legalization of sexist and racist discrimination in successive pieces of legislation. In 1869 it introduced the concept of enfranchisement, whereby Indian people would lose their status as Indians and be treated the same as other Canadians. For Aboriginal women, this process of enfranchisement had particularly devastating consequences, because the role assigned to Canadian women was one of inferiority and subjugation to the male.

Upon becoming enfranchised, Aboriginal people lost their status under the Indian Act. An Indian woman lost her status automatically upon marrying a man who was not a status Indian. This was not true for Indian men, whose non-Indian wives gained status as Indians upon marriage. Under subsequent Indian Acts, Indian agents could enfranchise an Indian if he were deemed "progressive." In cases where a man became enfranchised, his wife and children automatically lost their status, as well.6

While Bill C-31 (1985) addressed many of these problems, it created new ones in terms of the differential treatment of male and female children of Aboriginal people. Under the new Act, anomalies can develop where the children of a status Indian woman can pass on status to their children only if they marry registered Indians, whereas the grandchildren of a status male will have full status, despite the fact that one of their parents does not have status. Chapter 5, on treaty and Aboriginal rights, discusses this problem in detail and outlines steps that must be taken to remedy it.

Aboriginal women traditionally played a prominent role in the consensual decision-making process of their communities. The Indian Act created the chief and council system of local government. The local Indian agent chaired the meetings of the chief and council, and had the power to remove the chief and council from office. Aboriginal women were denied any vote in the new system imposed by the Indian Affairs administration. As a result, they were stripped of any formal involvement in the political process.

The segregation of Aboriginal women, both from wider society and from their traditional role as equal and strong members of tribal society, continues to the present day. This is due partly to the fact that the effects of past discrimination have resulted in the poor socio-economic situation applicable to most Aboriginal women, but it is also attributable to the demeaning image of Aboriginal women that has developed over the years. North American society has adopted a destructive and stereotypical view of Aboriginal women. TOP


The Changing Image of Aboriginal Women TOP

The demeaning image of Aboriginal women is rampant in North American culture. School textbooks have portrayed Aboriginal woman as ill-treated at the hands of Aboriginal men, almost a "beast of burden." These images are more than symbolic—they have helped to facilitate the physical and sexual abuse of Aboriginal women in contemporary society. Emma LaRocque, a Metis woman and professor of Native Studies at the University of Manitoba, wrote to the Inquiry about such demeaning images.

The portrayal of the squaw is one of the most degraded, most despised and most dehumanized anywhere in the world. The ‘squaw’ is the female counterpart to the Indian male ‘savage’ and as such she has no human face; she is lustful, immoral, unfeeling and dirty. Such grotesque dehumanization has rendered all Native women and girls vulnerable to gross physical, psychological and sexual violence.... I believe that there is a direct relationship between these horrible racist/sexist stereotypes and violence against Native women and girls. I believe, for example, that Helen Betty Osborne was murdered in 1972 by four young men from The Pas because these youths grew up with twisted notions of “Indian girls” as “squaws” ... Osborne’s attempts to fight off these men’s sexual advances challenged their racist expectations that an “Indian squaw” should show subservience ... [causing] the whites ... to go into a rage and proceed to brutalize the victim.7

Racist and sexist stereotypes not only hurt Aboriginal women and their sense of self-esteem, but actually encourage abuse—both by Aboriginal men and by others. The Ma Mawi Chi Itata Centre’s Family Violence Program attempts to help both victims and offenders to see beyond the stereotypes. In a book used by the program, Paula Gunn Allen explains about "recovering the feminine in American Indian traditions":

For the past 40 or 50 years, American popular media have depicted American Indian men as bloodthirsty savages devoted to treating women cruelly. While traditional Indian men seldom did any such thing—and in fact among most tribes abuse of women was simply unthinkable, as was abuse of children or the aged—the lie about “usual” male Indian behaviour seems to have taken root and now bears its brutal and bitter fruit.

The colonizers’ revisions of our lives, values, and histories have devastated us at the most critical level of all—that of our own minds, our own sense of who we are.

Image casting and image control constitute the central process that American Indian women must come to terms with, for on that control rests our sense of self, our claim to a past and to a future that we define and that we build ... images must be changed before Indian women will see much relief from the violence that destroys so many lives....8

Our Inquiry was told by the Canadian Coalition for Equality and by the Manitoba Women’s Directorate that the media today continue to employ stereotypical images of women. Both presentations compared lurid newspaper coverage of the Helen Betty Osborne murder in The Pas to the more straightforward and sympathetic coverage of the killing of a young non-Aboriginal woman in Winnipeg.

We consider societal attitudes to be an issue that this Inquiry must address. There is a perception among women’s groups, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, that abuse of Aboriginal women is more acceptable to the courts than abuse of non-Aboriginal women. While we do not subscribe to the view that there is differential treatment, we are disturbed enough by the perception to suggest that it needs to be addressed. At the heart of the problem is the belief that, fundamentally, justice authorities do not understand, and do not wish to understand, the unique issues facing Aboriginal women.

In order to address the underlying problems that give rise to this perception, the public generally, and those within the justice system specifically, need to be educated about those issues by Aboriginal women. Elsewhere in this report we have recommended that cross-cultural training be provided to a variety of individuals involved in the justice system. We would like to make it clear that Aboriginal women must play a central role in the development and delivery of those programs.

Unfortunately, Aboriginal men, over the centuries, have adopted the same attitude toward women as the European. As a result, the cultural and social degradation of Aboriginal women has been devastating.

According to the Manitoba Women’s Directorate, the average annual income for Manitoba’s Aboriginal women is less than 75% of that for other women. The labour force participation rate for Aboriginal women is 40%, while 72% of Aboriginal women do not have a high school diploma.

The status of Aboriginal women in the city of Winnipeg is particularly disturbing. Forty-three per cent of Aboriginal families are headed by single women, compared to 10% of non-Aboriginal families. In her presentation on behalf of the Women’s Directorate, Janet Fontaine said:

Poverty is an unmistakable factor in the lives of Manitoba Native women and children. Poverty has been shown to be positively correlated with conflict with the law, low levels of education, decreased opportunity for employment, and a low level of health.

While the "official" unemployment rate has been estimated at 16.5% for Aboriginal women, official statistics typically do not count those who are not actively looking for work.9 Many Aboriginal women do not actively seek work because there is no employment available to them, or because it is impossible for them to work, due to their family circumstances or for other reasons. The actual employment rate for female status Indians age 15 or more has been estimated as low as 24%.10 These numbers appear to be due, in part, to an absence of educational and employment opportunities for Aboriginal women.

This history of social, economic and cultural oppression should be seen as the backdrop for our discussion of Aboriginal women as both victims and offenders in the Manitoba justice system. TOP


The Abuse of Women and Children TOP

The presentations of Aboriginal women were blunt and direct. Violence and abuse in Aboriginal communities has reached epidemic proportions.

This violence takes a number of forms. Sometimes it involves physical assaults between adult males. More often—and more disturbingly—it involves the victimization of the least powerful members of the community: women and children.

The Manitoba Women’s Directorate submitted to our Inquiry a document entitled "Native Perspective on Rape." According to one of the women interviewed for the study:

• Rape is a common and widespread experience.

• Rape extends back many generations.

• People treat rape as a personal, private pain and do not talk about it unless there is an unavoidable crisis.

• The individual who is raped comes to view violence as the norm.11

The Indigenous Women’s Collective, and a joint presentation by the Native Women’s Transition Centre, the Women’s Post Treatment Centre, the North End Women’s Centre and Ma Mawi Chi Itata Family Violence Program focussed on the question of the abuse which exists in Aboriginal communities. They wished to expose the level of sexual abuse and to end the silence that is leaving women and children unprotected. Aboriginal women saw sexual abuse as a tragedy. Josie Hill, the director of the Native Women’s Transition Centre, told us:

[I]t is no less than the absolute disrespect of a human being. Our own grandmothers state that when a child is sexually abused, ‘the spirit leaves; the spirit can hide; the spirit can die’, as a result of the great shock the ultimate effect is that people become unable to function in home and community.

Professor LaRocque wrote:

People violate persons and laws, not because of “cultural differences” but because of the human potential for evil which is perhaps influenced by socio-economic conditions. I believe sexual violence is best explained by sexism and misogyny which is nurtured and inherent in patriarchy. Rape in any culture and by any standards is warfare against women.12

Finally, she commented on the difficulty Aboriginal women experience in addressing this issue: "I know we have shied away from dealing with the [Native community abuse] issue partly because we had to fend off racism and stereotypes."

The victimization of Aboriginal women has not only been manifested in their abuse, but also in the manner in which Aboriginal female victims are treated. Women victims often suffer unsympathetic treatment from those who should be there to help them. We heard one example of such treatment from the Aboriginal mother of a 16-year-old rape victim. She told of how the police came to her home after her daughter had reported being raped and had undergone hospital examination and police questioning. The police told the mother that her daughter was lying and should be charged with public mischief. According to the mother, the officer added, "Didn’t you want it when you were 16?"

In past times it was the abusers who were shunned; now it is the complainant who is shunned. The Manitoba Women’s Directorate made the point that colonization has brought "many kinds and levels of abuse" to Aboriginal people. The directorate told us of one woman who

had been abused by being deprived of her history, her family and her language. In her adult life, she had all the signs of an abused person although she had not been physically abused. She suffers from low self-esteem and being unable to believe she is loveable. TOP


Spousal Abuse TOP

One study presented to our Inquiry stated that while one in 10 women in Canada is abused by her partner, for Aboriginal women the figure is closer to one in three.13

The most recent study of Aboriginal women by Aboriginal women, a survey conducted by the Ontario Native Women’s Association in 1989, found that 80% of Aboriginal women had personally experienced family violence.14 Fifty-three per cent of Aboriginal women who responded to a survey conducted for us by the Indigenous Women’s Collective indicated they had been physically abused. Seventy-four per cent of those women indicated they did not seek help.

The Thompson Crisis Centre stated that, generally, women are abused at least 20 times before seeking help.15 A March 1991 study by the Manitoba Association of Women and the Law found that the statistics of a 1980 federal study, Wife Battering in Canada: A Vicious Circle, still held: women endure anywhere from 11 to 39 episodes of abuse before seeking help, and then they seek help more often from a shelter than from police.16 The Manitoba government Family Disputes Services branch says that abuse occurs at least 35 times before any outside assistance is sought.

There are currently no statistics that indicate the number of complaints which result in a charge being laid. In 1983, before the current charging policy was established, only 9% resulted in arrest.

According to the 1991 report of the Manitoba Association of Women and the Law, some improvements have been made since 1983. Nevertheless, over 30% of domestic assault charges are stayed at some stage before trial. The percentage of those sentenced has increased from 48% in 1983 to 64% in 1986. However, only 7% of those sentenced in 1987 were sentenced to a term in jail.17 While we agree that certain cases need to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, it does not appear that that avenue has been very effective to date.

Aboriginal women surveyed by the Indigenous Women’s Collective indicated that the police response received by others discouraged them from going to the police for help. They complained of the lack of understanding of the problem by officers, and their lack of sensitivity. They believe the police do not understand the situation of the abused woman and the needs of children.

More than one woman who spoke to us told of complaining to the police, only to become the one removed from the home. This happened in spite of the fact that young children were left in the care of an intoxicated father. Others told of situations where police attended in the home, saw the situation was calm when they were there and told the woman everything would be all right. When the police left, the violence became worse than before. With such lack of support from police authorities, it is not surprising that women suffer in silence.

From this information, it is clear that women in abusive situations, particularly in isolated communities in northern Manitoba, do not feel confident in turning to the justice system. We were told that many abused Aboriginal women did not feel safe enough even to bring their personal stories before the Inquiry.18

Testimony presented to us by the Manitoba Action Committee on the Status of Women in Thompson made it clear why this was the case:

A man who beat his sister with a length of wood and who had a record of previous convictions for violent acts, was sentenced to seven months. A man who severely beat his common law wife, smashing her face against a fence, kicking her in the face, and slamming her face against the wall, before dragging her into a house, was sentenced to five months in jail, to be followed by probation after his release.

Both these offenders were going to return to their home communities after serving their sentences. Offenders are returned to their community without notice to the victim—and without treatment—and, as a result, their victims were at risk upon their release. Reporting the crime to police authorities provides a temporary respite at best if the causes of abuse are not dealt with.

The experience of staff at the Thompson Crisis Centre in assisting women who finally do report abuse is that police officers do not consider spousal assault as a serious crime. This view is supported by a report from Statistics Canada entitled "Conjugal Violence Against Women":

The primary reasons given by victims of wife assault who did not report the abuse to police were a belief that the incident was a personal matter and of no concern to the police (59%), a belief that the police would not be able to do anything about it (58%), and a fear of revenge by the offender (52%). Many also expressed a desire to protect the offender from the police (35%) or were concerned with the attitudes of the police or courts toward this incident (20%).... While almost half of all victims felt threatened enough by the violence to involve the police, half of those who did not report felt fearful of retaliation by the offender if they did involve the police. For some, the risk of having the abuser removed from the home, or involving the family in the justice system, would be worse than risking further violence. Some women seem to feel that the solution to the violence does not lie with the criminal justice system.19

In some cases, the Aboriginal woman making the complaint may be too frightened to testify. Should she decline to do so, she faces the risk of being charged with contempt of court. Aboriginal women said they would be more likely to lay charges and testify if someone were available to explain the court procedure to them, and if they were given emotional support throughout the proceedings.

Women’s groups expressed concern about the whole criminal justice system, from police to Crown attorneys, judges and correctional institutions. Crisis shelter workers affirmed the experience Aboriginal women have in dealing with the justice system:

... indifference/arrogance of lawyers; long police response time; insensitive response of police to spousal abuse; humiliating questioning; failure of police to protect victims; failure of police to take spousal abuse as a serious crime; difficulties obtaining peace bonds; lack of supports to witnesses and treatment of witnesses as criminals; difficulties obtaining protection or getting away from abusive partners in small communities.20

In northern, isolated reserve communities, the abused woman is placed in a more difficult situation when the question of calling the police arises. If she calls the police, it may take a day or longer for them to arrive. If they arrive while a party is going on, they may refuse to remove the offender or may simply drive him down the road, from where he can return again, only angrier. There is a lack of housing for families in isolated communities and no "safe house" available for women and children trying to escape an abusive man. They may be forced to spend the night in the bush, or be forced to leave the reserve entirely.

Professor LaRocque points out that women move to urban centres to escape family or community problems. Men, on the other hand, cite employment as the reason for moving. In the new setting Aboriginal women experience personal, systemic, subtle and overt racial discrimination. What they are forced to run to is often as bad as what they had to run from. Why they feel they have to leave is a matter worthy of comment.

Most chiefs and council members are male and often exhibit bias in favour of the male partner in a domestic abuse situation. This can effectively chase the woman from her home and community.

The unwillingness of chiefs and councils to address the plight of women and children suffering abuse at the hands of husbands and fathers is quite alarming. We are concerned enough about it to state that we believe that the failure of Aboriginal government leaders to deal at all with the problem of domestic abuse is unconscionable. We believe that there is a heavy responsibility on Aboriginal leaders to recognize the significance of the problem within their own communities. They must begin to recognize, as well, how much their silence and failure to act actually contribute to the problem.

Aboriginal leaders must speak out against abuse within their communities to their own community members, and they must take steps within their own spheres of community influence to assist the true victims. Women and children who report abuse should never feel they have to leave their communities in order to feel safe. Aboriginal communities and their leaders must do what is possible to make the home communities of abused women and children havens from abuse. The problem of abuse is dealt with presently by women either staying on the reserves and putting up with the abuse, or leaving their communities to live elsewhere, just to escape from it. It is clear, however, that most would prefer to stay in their home communities if they could be protected.

Aboriginal women would like to see arbitration and community support systems in place in their communities. This is another area in which the development of local resources is badly needed. Aboriginal leadership must ensure that it is sought and governments must ensure that it is provided.

There is no equal division of property upon marriage breakdown recognized under the Indian Act. This has to be rectified. While we recognize that amending the Indian Act is not a high priority for either the federal government or the Aboriginal leadership of Canada, we do believe that this matter warrants immediate attention. The Act’s failure to deal fairly and equitably with Aboriginal women is not only quite probably unconstitutional, but also appears to encourage administrative discrimination in the provision of housing and other services to Aboriginal women by the Department of Indian Affairs and local governments.

We recommend that:

_ The Indian Act be amended to provide for the equal division of property upon marriage breakdown.

At the provincial level, Aboriginal leaders must begin to support the types of programs which assist Aboriginal women and children to report abuse and to get help for its effects. The silence and inactivity of Aboriginal leadership on this issue cannot continue. It amounts to a denial of responsibility.

We recommend that:

_ Aboriginal leaders establish a local government portfolio for women and children, with responsibility to develop educational and support programs in the area of spousal and child abuse.

Police forces must join forces with social workers in developing a comprehensive response to domestic violence. In urban communities, we recommend the establishment of abuse teams made up of one or two police officers and a social worker trained in the area of family violence. When a complaint of a disturbance between partners is received, this team should be dispatched. It should be sufficiently expert to be able to assess the situation and to take the appropriate action.

A report of the team should be placed on computer. The report should explain the difficulty and should record any issues that should be considered or anticipated in any subsequent attendance. Before going out on a complaint, the team should examine the record to see if the family has had previous problems. This information might play a part in the steps taken by a team on a second attendance.

We heard of reports of repeated assaults, some leading to death. It is our belief that preventive policing by an abuse team may be able to catch volatile situations and deal with them before the violence escalates.

If there are peacemakers or other support groups in a community, the abuse team might be able to obtain the agreement of the parties to go to them for help. The abuse team should monitor the progress of the family.

We recommend that:

_ Police forces establish family abuse teams which include police officers and social workers trained in dealing with domestic disputes. Such teams should make extensive use of electronic record-keeping and community resources. TOP


Supports for Abused Aboriginal Women TOP

There are now 10 shelters for abused women located in Manitoba, with the 11th due to open in Dauphin in the fall of 1991. There is also a provincial toll-free crisis line which provides immediate and culturally sensitive counselling and referral to women in abusive situations. The provincial Family Disputes Services branch supports the crisis line and provides each of the shelters with core funding and a per-diem overnight rate per person.

Shelters are established to offer a secure environment where the abused are safe from the abuser. Trained counsellors are available to assist the women and children. In 1989–90, 1,934 women and 2,804 children came into shelters in Manitoba, staying an average of five days.

In some towns, local crisis committees operate safe homes where a woman and her children may stay until space in an approved shelter is available. These homes may either be the homes of volunteers or a motel. The Income Security Program of the Department of Family Services pays a much lower per-diem rate per person than is allocated by the Family Disputes Services branch for shelters. The branch does not support safe homes financially because it believes that it does not have a secure environment to keep the abuser from the abused, nor any trained counsellors. We find such a policy to be working adversely against Aboriginal communities where the need for a separate shelter may not be sufficiently large to justify the establishment of one, but where having safe houses to provide occasional relief would create a needed community-based resource.

Second-stage housing offers self-contained accommodation for women and children for a period of one year. This type of service is being made available in some Manitoba communities: Women In Second-Stage Housing (WISH) in Winnipeg, Samaritan House in Brandon, Thompson Crisis Centre, as well as accommodations in Steinbach, Portage, Selkirk and Swan River. During this time, women benefit from individual and group sessions to enhance self-esteem, to heal from abuse, to begin family counselling, to learn new parenting skills, and to undertake employment preparation training and assistance.

The contrast in services provided to Aboriginal women is shocking: there are no Aboriginal shelters, other than one in Winnipeg, no Aboriginal safe homes and no Aboriginal second-stage housing anywhere. The only shelter established and directed by Aboriginal people is Ikwe Widdjiitiwin in Winnipeg. It is designed to deal exclusively with the unique cultural and social issues of Aboriginal women.

Ikwe Widdjiitiwin seeks to provide women with crisis support, supplemented with programs designed to empower Aboriginal women. Ikwe was established by Aboriginal women who believed that Aboriginal women have difficulty in benefiting from non-Aboriginal agencies, because their life experiences differ so significantly from the counsellors’ and because the mandates of non-Aboriginal agencies are not appropriate to the cultural philosophies of Aboriginal people. In addition, the Native Women’s Transition Centre provides full-time, long-term counselling, advocacy, child care, outreach and follow-up for women. The centre’s philosophy stresses the right of Aboriginal women to self-sufficiency, dignity, self-respect, caring and self-determination.

As we were told numerous times, women who wish to escape an abusive home must leave the reserve community and go to the town or city. We consider this tragic and unacceptable. In situations where it is unsafe to leave the victim in the home, there should be shelters or safe houses in Aboriginal communities to which the victim can go.

We recommend that:

_ Shelters and safe homes for abused women and children be established in Aboriginal communities and in urban centres. These shelters should be controlled by Aboriginal women who can provide culturally appropriate services.

Counselling and support for the victims of abuse are essential. Of course, stopping the abuse is the best possible solution and may lead to a continuation of the family unit. If it appears that abuse is likely to continue, the victim should be assisted to terminate the relationship. This cannot be done without a great deal of local support.

We believe that if communities make it known that physical or sexual abuse will not be tolerated and that offenders will be dealt with harshly, there will be a significant reduction in abuse. Traditional Aboriginal means of punishment may be particularly helpful in these situations. Public ridicule and shunning, if applied with the support of the leadership in a community, may be as effective a deterrent as imprisonment.

The physical or sexual abuse of a family member, or of anyone else for that matter, must be treated as extremely serious. The community must support that attitude.

The support of chiefs and councillors is needed to provided the necessary feeling of security to women in Aboriginal communities. The local police, whether they be band constables or members of an Aboriginal police force, members of the City police forces or the RCMP, should be encouraged to remove offenders at the first sign of abuse.

We were told by a number of Aboriginal women that when a woman who has been abused calls the police, the police usually come to the home to investigate. If there are clear signs of abuse and the man is still in a foul humour, the man may be arrested and removed. Too often, however, the man is left in the home and the woman is encouraged to leave the home and seek refuge in a shelter, if there is one, or in the home of a friend or relative.

The emphasis in the past seems to have been to encourage an abused woman to go to a shelter. It is the abuser who should leave, if anyone has to. There should be support groups in every community that will assist the abused woman to stay in the home and to have the abuser removed. Orders of sole occupancy of a home and orders prohibiting an abuser from entering the premises where the spouse is living are obtainable in the Court of Queen’s Bench, Family Division, and should be used to keep the abuser out of the home until something can be done to deal with the abuse. TOP


Child Abuse TOP

The most disturbing aspect of all this is child abuse. This abuse is both physical and sexual. All cultural groups have prohibitions against incest and sexual interference with children, but adherence to those rules appears to have broken down both in the broader Canadian society and in Aboriginal society in Manitoba. Dr. Sally Longstaffe, of the Child Advocacy Project with the Child Protection Centre, appeared before us and spoke of the problems society has had in coming to grips with sexual abuse. As part of her presentation, she submitted the project’s report, entitled A New Justice for Indian Children, which states:

The problem of child sexual assault is one that has reached epidemic proportions in recent years. Due to the rapid rise in reported instances of child sexual abuse, the demand for knowledge on the subject far exceeds supply. The knowledge that currently exists is rapidly changing as it undergoes examination and refinement by various professionals in the human service field.21

The Child Protection Centre of the Children’s Hospital established a Child Advocacy Project to study and document the dynamics of sexual abuse involving children treated at the Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg.

Longstaffe described the study that involved a detailed investigation into the cases of 147 Manitoba children (both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal). Although there was medical evidence to support a belief that the children had been sexually abused, in 85 cases charges were never laid or were dismissed.

Dr. Longstaffe said that the situations facing Aboriginal children on reserves were particularly worrisome. The children often were the victims of multiple assaults from numerous, and often related, individuals, and often were threatened if they took their complaints to the authorities. In reserve communities, the lack of communication between social agencies, and the lack of connection between the community and the justice system, led to a number of disturbing consequences.

The report of the Child Advocacy Project stated:

The need for bold action is apparent. Children are suffering from trauma, physical injury, and psychological devastation that result from sexual abuse. The injuries to self-esteem, trust, and emotional functioning last a lifetime. The incidence of sniffing, alcohol abuse, eating disorders, suicide, depression, and sexual acting out among Indian children suggest that the problem of child sexual abuse has reached epidemic proportions.22

The statistics examined by the project show that the court system is not the answer in all situations. Two-thirds of the children it looked at who were removed from unsafe homes were returned eventually to those homes by the courts, or were placed in a setting where the offender had direct or indirect access to them. In approximately 65% of what the project considered to be abuse cases, either no charges were laid or the charges were dismissed.

The project suggests the use of elders in responding to Aboriginal child sexual abuse. It suggests there are several merits to this approach:

Elders command the respect necessary to mobilize reserve communities to deal with the problem. As well, their position in the community is well-suited to both confronting the offender and consulting ongoing treatment strategies for the offender with collaboration information and support from other treatment resources. Most importantly, elders are a source of expertise and credibility in performing the task of blending modern clinical expertise and theoretical knowledge with the traditional values of their people.23

The causes of sexual assault are complex and difficult to ascertain. Feelings of anger and frustration, and the need for a feeling of power or dominance over another, may partly explain this activity. Certainly, alcohol plays a major part, as many people do things under the influence of alcohol they would not normally do.

Children are easy targets for angry parents, and often verbal and then physical abuse are directed towards them. They are in a difficult position to resist physical attacks or sexual advances from a parent or an older relative. While some of the history we spoke of earlier may offer some explanations for such unacceptable conduct, and even if that conduct is part of the legacy of colonization, we wish to make it clear that we find none of the explanations an excuse for the manner in which Aboriginal women and children are treated. With eight out of 10 Aboriginal women reporting having been abused—many of them as young children—the question of child abuse must be addressed forcefully because, in our view, it represents the single greatest threat to the future of Aboriginal people and their societies.

The report of the Child Advocacy Project states:

The social cost of child sexual abuse is higher than we can imagine. These child victims continue to be victimized throughout their lives. The burden of this victimization is preventing many Indian children from becoming the healthy, functioning adults they might otherwise be. The failure of the social, medical, and legal systems to provide a safe environment for the normal development of these children perpetuates the existence of future generations of victims. It is time to break the cycle of victimization. It is time to break the long standing pattern of non-action on reserve-based child sexual abuse. Quite simply, it is time for a new justice for Indian children.24

Specifically, the report recommends:

All rural detachments of the RCMP should receive additional training in child sexual abuse and the investigation of such cases. As well, RCMP training efforts in this area should be designed to include local tribal police for the dual purpose of maintaining a close relationship and providing these officers with proper information. Training should include the role of the peace officer in a multidisciplinary team....

That the Attorney General’s office give serious consideration to developing a program that would address the coordination problems inherent in reserve-based child sexual abuse cases. Such a program would address the issue of consistency, (ie: having the same Crown attorney throughout the case), as well as developing a working relationship with local Justice Committees. One possible option would be to hire legal assistants or paralegals to be based on the reserves for the purpose of facilitating a logical and orderly collaboration on each case. The possibility of developing Tribal Courts should, in our view, be explored by examining the relative success of such in other jurisdictions....

That a program be initiated to promote the use of a multidisciplinary team approach on every reserve in Manitoba. The focus of such an approach would be tribal elders in conjunction with the local child-caring agency, the local Child Care Committee, and the local Justice and other pertinent Committees. By using such mechanisms as a foundation for a community-based approach, non-native institutions and methods can be adapted to use in reserve communities. If such teams demonstrate leadership and a willingness to act, legal and medical professionals from the white system can play a supportive rather than controlling role....

It is recommended that there be considerable new resources committed toward developing a treatment capacity in each reserve, for offenders and victims, such resources currently being negligible. The logical vehicle for providing treatment is the local child-care agency, with advice and support from community elders, or perhaps a larger council of elders. Much needed culturally based prevention (personal safety) programs could then be developed for use in reserve schools....

It is recommended that child-caring agencies with the responsibility for the protection of Indian children place a big priority on developing greater numbers of safe placement options for children. This includes the careful scrutiny of current placement options, as well as possible extended family placements. The development of innovative new safe places for child victims is an undertaking that would optimally be conducted in conjunction with Child Care Committees and multidisciplinary teams as they become operative.25

We accept the findings and echo the recommendations of the Child Advocacy Project. Provincial, federal and community governments must jointly develop and implement resources and programs to deal with this most serious of problems.

Longstaffe told us that there were also positive developments and that these generally occurred where community leaders and elders played a crucial role in enforcing community discipline.

We had one situation in the course of this study where one of our elders had a sexual abuse situation that came to light in her own community during the course of the study and where, after some informal discussion, the community decided on its own to try to provide a ring of protection around potential victims. So, what happened was that the person in question who had been convicted of a very serious sexual assault on a small child in the past and was now living on this elder’s reserve was told by other individuals of stature in the community that they knew what had happened; they knew that he was at risk for doing this again and they were going to warn the other children who lived around him; they were going to warn their parents and that if he committed any kind of offence or began drinking, that he would be asked to leave the community. And this process, although informal, seemed to be very effective and was carried out over many months with success, we thought.

We recommend that:

_ The provincial government implement the recommendations found in the report of the Child Advocacy Project entitled A New Justice for Indian Children. TOP


Healing the Family and the Community TOP

Women told us of painful experiences in seeking help to escape an abusive home, and of their wish for help to keep the family together. They emphasized that Aboriginally designed and directed programs were what they wanted to assist them; they believed that only Aboriginal services would emphasize healing within the family and keeping the family together within the home community. Aboriginal women did not feel comfortable with counselling that tended to exclude the abuser from any treatment process and appears to stressed the necessity of the woman leaving her husband.

Glennis Smith of the Zeebeequa Society, a group of Aboriginal women who seek to protect women and children at Roseau River, explained: "Abuse in general, and violence, it is a disease and it can be treated. We cannot forget, even our offenders have one time been victims of these types of abuses."

In their presentations to the Inquiry, Aboriginal women called for a healing of the people—women, men, children, families, communities. Aboriginal women, we are told, generally want to "fix" the problem and stay with their partner. They believe this can be done by programs that treat the whole family. Their philosophy is that strong, healthy families make strong, healthy communities. While they agree that some short-term crisis intervention often is needed, they want to go from that point to one where there is treatment provided for the family as a unit, including both the parents and the children.

Aboriginal women ask for treatment that will focus on the whole person and the whole family unit. They believe this approach must include traditional Aboriginal teachings and healing. To achieve that type of an approach, the leaders of programs must themselves be Aboriginal people with some skills or training.

We agree that, instead of sending all abusers to jail, there should be a careful screening process. Where jail does not appear to be the best answer to the situation, we suggest that abusers be required to attend a culturally appropriate treatment program with other members of the family. We believe this will be more effective than fines, restraining orders or community service orders.

The women who spoke to us called for Aboriginally designed and directed programs, similar to those at Alkali Lake, B.C. and at Hollow Water in eastern Manitoba. It is worthwhile to examine the history and success of these developments.

Alkali Lake, B.C.

In Alkali Lake, an Aboriginal community in British Columbia, one family turned from alcohol and began a change that affected the whole community. One by one, members of the community rejected the consumption of alcohol as an acceptable practice. Some alcohol abusers were even asked to leave the community. With the reduction in alcohol consumption abuse, crime declined, and energies were turned toward developing economic opportunities. Alkali Lake has developed an Aboriginal model of healing and self-actualization called "Flying on Your Own." This program of intensive group therapy has reached hundreds of Aboriginal people across Canada, and is often used by bands in Manitoba and by the Aboriginal social agency, Ma Mawi Chi Itata Centre.

In many ways, Aboriginal communities lead the rest of the province in addressing the consequences of sexual abuse and in devising imaginative ways, based on Aboriginal traditions, to deal with it. In Winnipeg, there are two Aboriginal women’s agencies which attempt to provide holistic services to Aboriginal women.

The Hollow Water Resource Group

Hollow Water, Seymourville, Agaming and Manigotogan have taken a lead in dealing with sexual abuse cases in their communities by establishing the Hollow Water Resource Group. The emphasis in these communities is on healing and restitution, rather than on punishment. It uses the authority of the legal system when necessary, but concentrates on restoring harmony and balance to the family and the community by healing both the victim and the offender.

The Hollow Water Resource Group told us that their program began as a community workshop, organized by a few people who had survived lives of abuse. About 60 people met and were asked how many ever had been abused. Two-thirds said that they had been. A startling one-third admitted that they had victimized someone else. All agreed that something had to be done to help their communities. The courts were giving sentences considered by the communities to be both too lenient and inappropriate. At the same time, there was no treatment for an offender who was jailed. The group devised a plan of action.

When a person in the community is charged with abuse, whether the abuse is physical or sexual, the RCMP are notified and invited to attend a meeting of the Assessment Team. The team discusses the reported abuse and ensures the protection of the child. According to the resource group, the emphasis is on "protection, support and healing of the victim ... there can be no compromise made relative to the victim’s healing process." At this point the RCMP may lay a charge. If so, the matter proceeds normally through the court system, and the group may become involved at the court level. It has found that even when a matter is resolved in the court system and proceeds to disposition, there is a role for it to play in assisting the court to determine the best manner of disposing of the case.

An example of the court’s reaction to the community program, as applied to one offender, is found in the decision of Her Honour Judge Lea Duval in R. v. Seymour, a decision of the Provincial Court of Manitoba sitting at Pine Falls, dated May 24, 1989. In that case Judge Duval referred to the work done by the group, to the interest and involvement of the accused in rehabilitation and in reforming his conduct, and to the group’s recommendation that incarceration not be applied. She accommodated that recommendation in her sentence.

The resource group meets separately with the offender, the victim and the family. In some instances, the victim and the offender will meet to discuss what harm has been caused to the family unit and what, if anything, can be done to restore harmony to the family. The resource group will also assess the likelihood of any repetition of the offence. This community involvement is intended to show the abuser that the community is on the side of the victim, to make him or her see that the offence is unacceptable, and to offer assistance if the offender will accept responsibility for the inappropriate conduct.

Following these meetings, the resource group representatives meet with the RCMP and the Crown attorney to indicate the plan they propose to undertake.

Depending on a number of factors, particularly on whether the victimizer accepts responsibility, the resource group may indicate its intention to continue to handle the case even if the offender is prosecuted, and it may ask to be allowed to make a recommendation to the court for appropriate punishment if the accused is convicted.

In the event that the Crown prosecutor does not proceed with a charge, for whatever reason, the resource group will continue to meet separately with the offender, the victim and the family of each to explain what will be expected in the healing process. A special gathering and ceremony then is held. The offender, victim, family members and resource group members gather and speak of how they feel about the offence, what responsibility the offender must take, and how each can help in the healing process of the victim and offender. This is the heart of the process and allows the community to show concern for all involved. The offender publicly apologizes and signs a Healing Contract, which usually commits the offender to some form of community service and treatment, and includes a promise by the offender against future victimization of the abused individual.

A special ceremony marks the conclusion of the contract. It recognizes the restoration of the offender to the community and marks a new beginning for all involved. The RCMP are kept advised of the progress of the group’s efforts.

The advantage of the Hollow Water approach is that it offers options missing from other programs. Not only does it provide rehabilitation to the offender, and support and comfort to the victim, but it provides a mechanism to heal and restore harmony to the families and the community. This approach deals with the problem of abuse at its source. The Hollow Water model was created to protect people against repetition of the offence and to prevent any new incidents of abuse.

The Hollow Water model may be best suited to Indian and Metis communities with greater closeness to Aboriginal traditions of healing. However, we believe that such an approach could also be effective in an urban setting.

Other communities agree with the philosophy and method of seeking rehabilitation and restoration of relationships, rather than retribution. Glennis Smith of the Zeebeequa Society of Roseau River recommended treatment rather than incarceration of offenders, noting that many times offenders come out of jail with no treatment for, or understanding of, their behaviour. Janet Fontaine, a Cree woman and employee of the Manitoba Women’s Directorate, agreed: "I don’t choose to separate out the pain of women from the pain of men when it comes to the range of violence issues."

The role of Aboriginal women has been prominent in the design and implementation of Aboriginal models of healing the victim and abuser, and in developing community support for these programs.

It is clear to us that Aboriginal people must be allowed to develop culturally appropriate programs and institutions to deal with family violence issues. These institutions must come under Aboriginal control. The Indigenous Women’s Collective and others recommended a healing lodge concept—a place where Aboriginal people can come together to learn the teachings of elders and to participate in healing ceremonies. The Interlake Reserves Tribal Council is working to develop their Harmony and Restoration Centre near Gypsumville to provide a more formalized program for offenders, while enabling their families and victims to join in the growing and healing process. The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs has a research team investigating the development of the Healing Lodge to assist Aboriginal people and communities to recover from the ravages of residential school experiences.

We believe that the principles behind healing lodges can play a central role in addressing the issue of family violence in Aboriginal communities. These lodges can serve both as centres where women can address and overcome the experience of being abused, and as facilities or programs to which abusers could be sentenced on a non-custodial basis.

In Chapter 8, which discusses court reform, we propose that intrafamily abuse matters be dealt with in the Family Division of a new unified trial court where the counselling and mediation services of Family Conciliation would be available in appropriate abuse cases.

In our chapter on correctional institutions (Chapter 11), we recommend that "open custody programs for Aboriginal adult and young offenders requiring counselling, behaviour improvement, job training and other forms of assistance be established in Aboriginal communities." We believe it is important that, as Aboriginal people develop their own justice system, they play a central role in the design and administration of correctional institutions. For this reason, we are not providing details of open custody programs or facilities. We would like to stress, however, that the Manitoba government must work with Aboriginal communities to develop them.

We recommend that:

_ Community mediation programs such as the one operated by the Hollow Water Resource Group be expanded to Aboriginal communities throughout the province. Such programs must be designed and operated by Aboriginal people. TOP


Dealing with the Abuser TOP

In Aboriginal communities the abuser should have to meet with a peacemaker and efforts at reconciliation should then proceed. If these fail, then a charge should be proceeded with.

If the abuser is not going to be incarcerated, the courts still can be of assistance by requiring the abuser to make use of local community support systems. If local holding facilities are available, these should be used to house and counsel abusers.

If incarceration or a suspended sentence is imposed, a condition should be that the abuser obtain treatment and counselling for domestic violence, with a reference to an Aboriginally based program, if that is acceptable to the accused.

In spite of the need to use the criminal justice system to emphasize to an abuser the severity of abusive conduct, we believe that every effort should be made to save the family unit. If an offender is likely to return to the community and family after serving a sentence, it is better to try to cure the problem at an early stage. If the abuser can be stopped from a repetition of abusive conduct, that would be ideal. If it can be accomplished without the necessity of incarcerating the abuser, so much the better.

We know from experience that incarceration does not stop abuse, except for the months someone may be incarcerated. We know that incarceration of some abusers is not a deterrent to other abusers. The application of the criminal justice system is a band-aid or short-term solution at best. TOP


Alcohol, Crime and Abuse TOP

It was generally Aboriginal women who spoke to us of the effect of alcohol on crime in general and on family violence in particular. It is a fact established by a long line of studies that Aboriginal involvement in crime includes as a factor the abuse of alcohol. It is also the case that the consumption of alcohol contributes to the incidents of domestic violence and child abuse which occur on Indian reserves.

Women at God’s Lake Narrows (a dry reserve) told us that, in their opinion, 95% of crime in their communities is related to the consumption of alcohol. Most of the many inmates and former inmates who spoke to us attribute their offence to the over-consumption of alcohol. A substantial number of those involved in causing the death of another did not even remember the event, due to alcohol consumption.

As is the case with the illegal use of drugs, we believe that attacking the illegal providers of the substance, rather than the addict, makes sense.

However, in one respect, alcoholism represents a problem that requires solutions which the justice system cannot adequately provide. It is not sufficient simply to lock up people for being intoxicated. The consumption of alcohol is not, on its own, illegal. Locking up people who have committed crimes while intoxicated also has questionable benefits. People must be held to account for their crimes and the principle of punishment is designed to accomplish that, but punishment has questionable benefits when the one being punished has no recollection of what he or she did.

Punishment is, as well, only one consideration in sentencing. Rehabilitation of the offender and deterrence from committing the offence in the future, either by the offender or by others, are equally important considerations. When an offender commits a crime while intoxicated—an act which many people might be prepared to assert is totally out of character for the accused—courts have to struggle with the issue of deterring someone who needs to be deterred more from the consumption of alcohol than from breaking the law.

Rehabilitation sometimes takes precedence as a factor in sentencing, but sending someone to jail simply so he or she can deal with a drinking problem seems an improper use of incarceration. However, incarceration for abusing alcohol appears to be happening with Aboriginal offenders. Frankly, as long as the justice system is saddled with the problem, we expect that it will continue to deal with the issue in this admittedly inadequate manner.

Efforts must be increased to deal with the alcohol abuser within Aboriginal communities. This requires resources to increase the availability of treatment programs that are culturally appropriate, Aboriginally run and community-based.

As is the case with other programs designed to "help" people, we believe that programs that are based upon the cultures and traditions of Aboriginal people, and that involve Aboriginal methods of healing and personal conflict resolution, have a much greater chance of succeeding than do programs developed and managed by non-Aboriginal institutions. This is true in both urban and Aboriginal communities, and, therefore, calls for the establishment of more Aboriginally based resources and treatment programs in both areas.

As well, correctional institutions must also enhance the availability of culturally appropriate treatment programs within their institutions on an ongoing and regular basis.

Ultimately, it must be recognized that the presence and influence of alcohol and substance abuse in Aboriginal communities and among Aboriginal people are a direct reflection of the nature and level of despair which permeates that population. We have spent a considerable amount of time and space in this report detailing the basis for that despair.

It is our view that beginning to address the causes of Aboriginal despair in an appropriate and adequate manner will have a fundamentally more significant impact on Aboriginal alcoholism than will the efforts of police, the judiciary or treatment programs. TOP


The Sentencing of Aboriginal Women TOP

As we noted at the beginning of this chapter, Aboriginal women are over-represented in federal and provincial correctional institutions at an even higher rate than Aboriginal males. An Elizabeth Fry Society study done in 198226 showed that 71% of Manitoba female inmates were Aboriginal. In 1988 the percentage of incarcerated Aboriginal females rose to 85%.

One of our early hearings, and the first one at a correctional institution, was at the Portage Correctional Institution. This women’s jail has a capacity of 44 inmates. There were 43 residents when we were there. At the time of our visit, some 70% of them were Aboriginal.

Regrettably, the situation at Portage is not unique. In Saskatchewan it has been estimated that treaty Indian women are 131 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-Aboriginal women, while Metis women are 28 times more likely to be incarcerated.27

This over-representation can be traced, in part, to the victimization that Aboriginal women experience. A study of federally sentenced Aboriginal women, conducted for the Native Women’s Association of Canada in 1990, found that 27 of the 39 women interviewed described experiences of childhood violence: rape, regular sexual assault, witnessing of murder, watching their mother repeatedly being beaten, beatings in juvenile detention homes at the hands of staff or other children. Twenty-seven of the 39 women experienced violence in adolescence and 34 of the 39 had been victims of assault as adults.28

There is no accidental relationship between our convictions for violent offences, and our histories as victims. As victims we carry the burden of our memories: of pain inflicted on us, of violence done before our eyes to those we loved, of rape, of sexual assaults, of beatings, of death. For us, violence begets violence: our contained hatred and rage concentrated in an explosion that has left us with yet more memories to scar and mark us.29

Statistics collected by the Portage Correctional Institution for women show that at least 80% of the inmates had suffered either physical or sexual abuse; 40% reported both.

Our hearings at the Portage Correctional Institution underlined the devastating impact that poverty and cultural deprivation have had upon Aboriginal women. The women who were incarcerated there told us that they felt that they were discriminated against both as women and as Aboriginal persons. They felt they were unable to take advantage of programs such as fine option that are intended to keep people out of jail, and which are readily available to men, because those programs are designed from a male perspective. They believed that judges and other justice system officials treated them with a lack of respect and understanding.

Many of the women we spoke with admitted that the consumption of alcohol was a contributing factor to their criminal involvement. Statistics confirmed that fact. However, while alcohol was mentioned by Aboriginal women at Portage, it was not the most significant factor that caused them to be there. Most appeared to have been the victims of early childhood sexual abuse and ongoing domestic violence from their husbands or partners.

Many felt trapped in an impossible economic and social situation from which there was little chance of escape. They saw little hope for improvement in their lives. Their plight, although often couched in other terms, was economic. Their ability to cope with life was hampered by the abuse they had received and continued to receive, as well as their poor or nonexistent job skills.

None of the women we spoke to wanted to be involved in criminal activity, but often they believed it necessary to do so in order to obtain money to care for their children. In view of the earnestness with which those women expressed their concerns to us, we are satisfied that there is a much deeper issue at play in Aboriginal female crime than mere disrespect for the law. One inmate described her situation in this way:

It all starts from welfare. It starts with the welfare system ... because I am a mother with kids and in order to do that, I had to do my crime. In order to barely live on welfare, I had to do my crime. You do get help from welfare, but it’s just barely enough to live. From there, you get involved with your crime and after that then you get picked up, you go to jail and when they look at you they call you nothing but a thief or whatever you’ve done. Nobody’s got no use for you, but like, you know, maybe that’s how I was living, how I was keeping my kids together, my family, my home, whatever I had.

Many of the women were concerned particularly that their children had been taken away from them and that their criminal involvement had led to questions being raised about their competency as parents. Many of them stated that it was in order to feed and provide for their children that they had committed their crimes in the first place, and they felt particularly wronged for having had their love and concern for their children questioned because of what they had done.

In discussing the disproportionate crime rates among Aboriginal women compared to non-Aboriginal women, Carol LaPrairie notes:

Native women may retaliate in kind against physically abusive Native men. Secondly, Native women may escape from a violent or otherwise abusive situation at home and migrate to an urban area where discrimination by a larger society combined by low level of skills and education, may relegate them to the ranks of the unemployed or unemployable. That in turn increases the probability of resorting to alcohol and drug abuse, or to prostitution, all of which increases the probability of conflict with the law. Even without engaging in any of these activities, being in an urban area increases their exposure to police, some of whom may be biased in the way they exercise their discretionary judgment when deciding whether or not to arrest a Native person.30

We have recommended in Chapter 10 that judges make greater use of alternatives to incarceration within the justice system and that additional alternatives be developed. We are convinced that Aboriginal women must be fully involved in the design and delivery of these alternatives.

Recent statistics also reveal that Aboriginal women are being incarcerated for more violent offences than are non-Aboriginal women.

In P4W (the Kingston Penitentiary for Women), almost three quarters of Native women, have been committed for violent offences (i.e. murder, attempted murder, wounding, assault. and manslaughter) and less than one quarter for property offences (i.e. theft, break and entering), while for non-Native women the comparable figures are thirty-two percent and thirty-eight percent.31

A 1990 study examining women and crime found that while "the number of women committing violent crime is increasing, women continue to represent a small proportion of those charged with a violent crime."32

According to the Elizabeth Fry Society and the Ikwewak Justice Committee, Aboriginal women are often going to jail for unpaid fines, despite the existence of the fine option program. The Indigenous Women’s Collective explained to us that it is often difficult for Aboriginal women to take advantage of community service orders and fine option programs. There is no support for child care or other arrangements that would enable a woman, often a single parent, to follow through with such an order. The collective stated that including restitution in fine option programs, "would ensure that the punishment fits the crime and would go further to lessen the indigenous persons incarcerated."33

Elsewhere in our report we have proposed major changes to the way fines are imposed and collected, and we have called for an end to the incarceration of offenders who default on fines. We propose improvements in the way that both restitution and community service orders are administered, and we believe these improvements will alleviate the problems that women offenders face in this area.

We also believe that Aboriginal women are over-represented in the Province’s correctional system because of problems they experience with the courts. Aboriginal women told us that lawyers do not understand the problems of Aboriginal women, that the lawyers do not understand the Aboriginal community or how the forces within it affect women.

Aboriginal women at times lash out against continuing abuse, either in self-defence or as a delayed reaction to being violated. According to Professor LaRocque, few lawyers understand that fact well and seldom bring those extenuating circumstances to the attention of the court. Women who have experienced long-term abuse, leading up to the offence with which they are charged, feel they should be presented to the court as victims and not simply as offenders.

Members of the legal profession must become aware of their clients’ life experience, particularly as it relates to domestic violence. We believe that defence counsel, Crown attorneys and members of the judiciary should receive in-depth training in the dynamics of domestic abuse.

Aboriginal women told us they found their court experience frustrating. They were particularly upset about the delays in the system and the length of time it takes to resolve a problem.

A number of women commented that they did not understand the court procedures. Some said they could not understand the language that was being used. Some knew nothing other than that they were told to plead guilty, so they did. Those who knew of it spoke highly of Legal Aid Manitoba’s paralegal program, where Aboriginal women paralegals attend four reserves and provide some information and support to those required to attend court.

We recommend that:

_ Alternatives to incarceration appropriate to Aboriginal cultures be developed for Aboriginal women. TOP


The Portage Correctional Institution TOP

The Portage Correctional Institution is the province’s only correctional institution for women. We believe the institution is an inappropriate facility for women and should be closed. In its place, we recommend the establishment of co-correctional facilities and community houses where female offenders can be required to live. These homes should exist in Aboriginal and in urban communities. Counselling and job-related training should be available in the home and in the community. The inmate should be able to attend school or work during the day, returning to the home for counselling and to stay at night.

We were told by the administrators of the Portage Correctional Institution that services provided at that institution include an adult basic education program and a life skills program provided by the Red River Community College. In addition, there are some employment-related opportunities. Inmates can work in food services, participate in a farm labour pool, or perform volunteer work on behalf of non-profit organizations. Services specific to Aboriginal women are provided mainly by the Ma Mawi Chi Itata Centre. A worker attends the institution once a week to counsel inmates and to assist in pre-release planning.

We were not convinced of the general application of these programs. We found existing programs to be inadequate. One woman indicated that she would have preferred to have been sentenced to the Prison for Women in Kingston:

There’s more to do. Every month they have something happening and people come in and so on. They have music; they have pow wows; they have A.A. socials and so on.

Another inmate told us that school programs were available only to people serving a sentence of two months or longer. The president of the board of directors of the Elizabeth Fry Society told us, "Portage la Prairie is dealing with women usually who have much shorter sentences and therefore they do not have programs in place."

The inmates who spoke to us were not aware of any halfway houses for women, nor of any assistance available to them when they left the institution. There is a clear need for job-related training programs, personal employment counselling and an active program to place women in a job upon their release. This is not now being done.

The programming problems at Portage la Prairie highlight the problem with sending female offenders to large and distant correctional facilities to serve very short sentences. The sentence creates tremendous disruption in the offender’s life, often leading to the break-up of families and loss of employment. The system’s impact is almost exclusively punitive, and victimizes innocent children and communities as much as, or more than, it punishes offenders.

One of the complaints we heard about the women’s jail in Portage la Prairie was its location. It is far from the homes of those from the North, making it impossible for family members, including children, to visit. The same problem exists for families in Winnipeg who find it difficult to visit and remain in contact with incarcerated women.

As an Aboriginal woman at the Portage Correctional Institution told us:

You come to jail and you sit here; your kids, your whole family is all split up. Child and Family Services ... have a way of getting involved.... They say you’re not a good mother. They, too, don’t listen to the person that has been through here. They haven’t seen a mother look after her kids all those years. That’s what they call you an unfit mother or you’re not good enough to look after your own kids and who else can you turn to? If you go back to welfare, they tell you the same thing. It’s all the same run around. Then, people like us, usually find ourselves back in the same circle, that we don’t know how, or we can’t, pull ourselves out of.

A parliamentary committee found that Aboriginal women were the most penalized by the prison experience:

Imprisoned women are triply disadvantaged: they suffer pains of incarceration common to all prisoners; in addition, they experience both the pains Native prisoners feel as a result of their cultural dislocation and those which women prisoners experience as a result of being incarcerated far from home and family.34

New programs must be devised to keep mothers who are incarcerated in close contact with their children, or the long-term consequences will be disastrous.

Studies have shown that women’s prisons tend to increase women’s dependency; stress women’s domestic, rather than employment, role; aggravate women’s emotional and physical isolation; destroy family and other relationships; and engender a sense of injustice.35 In other words, they appear to accomplish the opposite of what is intended. What we saw at Portage confirms these conclusions.

While some of the people we heard from expressed a preference for the Prison for Women in Kingston, this preference was only expressed as an alternative to the Portage Correctional Institution. Other presenters spoke about the injustices that occur when women are required to serve a sentence in the country’s only federal penitentiary for women. A number of presenters recommended that the Prison for Women in Kingston be abolished. The federal government recently has announced that there will be a regional centre for Aboriginal women, somewhere on the Prairies. While we support the intent to provide facilities closer to the homes of those sentenced in the West, the creation of a new institution in Saskatchewan or Alberta will not solve the problem. The facility will still be a "jail" and the problems of visiting still will remain.

In our opinion, more imaginative means of dealing with Aboriginal women offenders are required. It was clear to us that few, if any, of the inmates at Portage were security risks. Our research shows that the average sentence length at Portage is less than five months.

The report of the 1990 Task Force on women serving sentences in federal penitentiaries stated firmly that women offenders, even women convicted of violent crimes, are not a security risk or a threat to the safety of the community.36 The report recommended replacing "risk/security management" by "risk/support," and recommends replacing "current ‘security’" at the federal institution with "the provision of a healthy environment, supportive staff, and a good planning process."37 Alternatives to incarceration would enhance opportunities for rehabilitation without endangering the wider community.

Many inmates at Portage had spent their early years as wards of children’s aid societies and had been in conflict with the law since the age of 13 or 14. The despair of everyday living was too much for some of these Aboriginal women: a number of the women who testified before us in Portage la Prairie spoke of their attempts to commit suicide. All these facts lead us to the conclusion that existing facilities are not serving the needs of inmates or the best interests of society at large. TOP


Co-Correctional Institutions TOP

We believe that particular attention should be paid to the possibility of establishing co-correctional facilities. We believe that the conversion of existing programs to co-correctional programs might have many benefits, not the least of which could be making correctional services for Aboriginal women more readily available, either in their own communities or close to them.

Indian Ridge Corrections Centre, near Arlington in the state of Washington, was converted to a co-correctional facility in 1988. It houses 24 women and 86 men. Inmates engage in a full range of forestry work, including tree thinning, planting and forest fire fighting. Supplementing these forestry activities are in-camp work details, educational programs, counselling and social service programs. The rules of dress and conduct are strict. Fraternization of a sexual nature and sexual harassment by word, gesture or contact are forbidden. The more serious breaches result in the transfer of the inmate to unmixed medium security prisons. Common areas must be vacated by 10:00 p.m.

The administration and inmates are very positive about the program. As with other institutions of this type, there are limitations placed upon the extent of association between the sexes, but there is considerable freedom. The superintendent reported there are fewer disciplinary problems. A second co-correctional institution and possibly a third are now in the planning stage in Washington. Apparently 24 other American states now have co-correctional institutions.

We believe it to be a model that should be investigated carefully by the Manitoba government. As a first step in this direction, we believe that on the closure of the Portage Correctional Institution for women, the Milner Ridge Correctional Centre should be converted to a co-correctional facility. We understand that there are educational and employment training programs, as well as family violence and anger management courses, developed at Milner Ridge which could benefit both sexes. This transformation must be undertaken in consultation with women’s groups throughout the province. In addition, men convicted of crimes of violence against women or children, or with a history of violence against women or children, should be excluded from any co-correctional institution. A more normal atmosphere, with opportunities for both sexes to learn new respect for one another, would exist. When almost every other institution in society accommodates both sexes, correctional and rehabilitation institutions should consider doing the same.

We recommend that:

_ The Portage Correctional Institution be closed.

_ All women who are now sent to a federal penitentiary outside the province be permitted to serve their sentences in Manitoba.

_ Culturally appropriate group homes be established in urban areas by Aboriginal women’s organizations where urban Aboriginal women can serve any term of incarceration to which they may be sentenced, with access to programs of recovery from substance abuse, recovery from victimization and dependency, academic upgrading and training, and parenting skills.

_ Aboriginal women living in isolated or rural communities be held in open custody facilities in their home communities. Such women would be free to attend to their families, to work or to obtain education during the day, to attend counselling sessions in the evenings, and remain in the facility each night until their sentence is served.

_ The Milner Ridge Correctional Centre be converted to a co-correctional institution as a pilot project.

_ When facilities for men and women are established near northern communities, Aboriginal women from the North be allowed to serve their sentence in the facility nearest to their home community.

_ Arrangements be made for children to have frequent visits with their mother.

_ Child and family service agencies provide necessary support to Aboriginal mothers in jail and their children to ensure that the family is kept together.

_ Where children need to be taken into care following the incarceration of an Aboriginal mother, child and family service agencies make culturally appropriate foster arrangements for the children of such inmates. TOP


Parole and Post-Release Issues TOP

When a woman sentenced to prison has done her time and is released, in many cases she has no place to go, no job, and few if any qualifications for getting one.38

At the present time, there are virtually no facilities which provide housing specifically for female parolees, and no halfway houses designed solely for Aboriginal parolees. An official of the Ma Mawi Chi Itata Centre told us that the agency has great difficulty in maintaining contact with female parolees. She recommended that a suitable home be established to provide shelter and programs for between 10–12 female parolees and their children at any one time.

In her view, the program which best serves Aboriginal women is the Native Women’s Transition Centre, a facility designed to provide long-term assistance for Aboriginal women relocating to the city and who experience problems in doing so. However, there is a great demand for this program and, consequently, space frequently is unavailable.

The Salvation Army, the St. Norbert Foundation and the United Church Half-Way Homes will accept applications from Aboriginal women parolees, but no beds are set aside for them, and these organizations are not Aboriginal. Because these facilities, as well as Native Clan’s Regina House, primarily provide services to male parolees, it is frequently not appropriate to place a woman in them. This is especially true if, as is often the case, the woman has been in abusive relationships in the past.

In addition, little or no support is provided to assist female offenders to re-establish relationships with their families, and to establish a normal home life.

We recommend that:

_ Aboriginal women be appointed to the National Parole Board.

_ Funding be provided to Aboriginal women to establish a halfway house for Aboriginal female inmates.

_ The National Parole Board give direction that release plans for female inmates with children pay close attention to the need for family reintegration, and in particular to living and income security arrangements required for family reintegration. We further recommend that the federal and provincial governments ensure that income and housing support programs be developed for released female offenders with young children, designed to facilitate family reintegration. TOP


Conclusion TOP

Several themes were presented to us regarding Aboriginal women and the criminal justice system. There was an overall picture presented of racism, sexism and violence against Aboriginal women in Aboriginal communities, in wider society and in the justice system. There is a need to address the underlying causes of Aboriginal women coming into conflict with the law.

As the victims of childhood sexual abuse and adult domestic violence, they have borne the brunt of the breakdown of social controls within Aboriginal societies. There was substantial support for an entirely new system, to break the cycle of abuse and to restore Aboriginal methods of healing designed to return balance to the community, rather than punish the offender.

We have been impressed with the models of holistic healing that Aboriginal people are developing and putting into practice. The spiritual needs of the individual are considered foremost, with emotional, physical and intellectual support given as required. We were especially impressed with the Hollow Water Resource Group, where four communities work together to give support for victims and offenders of sexual abuse and family violence.

Aboriginal women come to the justice system with unique problems that arise from, or are related to, the fact that they face double discrimination in their lives. It is important that Aboriginal women be given positions of responsibility in the justice system. They should be involved as clerks, administrators, lawyers, judges, and so forth. They should be involved in the same way as men in law enforcement, in the administration of the courts, as probation officers and parole officers, and in the legal profession. Aboriginal women should be involved in substantial numbers in the RCMP and the City police forces, as well as in Aboriginal police forces. There is also a need for Aboriginal child welfare workers. Training programs will have to be developed and large numbers of Aboriginal women will have to be attracted to this important work.

We recommend elsewhere in this report that a number of positions in the legal system should be created in Aboriginal communities. We believe it is important that an equal number of men and women are hired to fill these positions. In the appointment of peacemakers and sentencing panels, it is important that both men and women be represented in each community. In order to accomplish this, we believe that enforceable employment equity plans will have to be developed and implemented.

We recommend that women be involved in the implementation of our recommendations, and that they be represented on the various administrative bodies that will become necessary.

While the role of Aboriginal women in Aboriginal society is not well understood in non-Aboriginal circles, we have been told, and accept, that a resumption of their traditional roles is the key to putting an end to Aboriginal female mistreatment.

The immediate need is for Aboriginal women to begin to heal from the decades of denigration they have experienced. But the ultimate objective is to encourage and assist Aboriginal women to regain and occupy their rightful place as equal partners in Aboriginal society.

We were moved by the situation of Aboriginal women. They suffer double discrimination: as women and as Aboriginal people; as victims and as offenders. We were convinced by arguments of Aboriginal women that a restoration of their traditional responsibility and position of equality in the family and community holds the key to resolving many of the problems we have identified. TOP

buffy.jpg (6592 bytes)Manitoba Government Home Page  

Back to Table of Contents