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Yorkton Tribal Council using federal funds to reduce incarceration among First Nations people | CBC News

The federal government is providing $1.4 million to the Yorkton Tribal Council (YTC) over five years for its Indigenous justice programs.

While the federal government publicly announced the funding on Tuesday morning in a virtual event, the YTC said the Justice Canada funding is not new. It’s ongoing base funding the YTC receives from the Department of Justice, with the current $1.4 million spanning from 2021 to 2026. 

The federal dollars are used to provide community based programs for youth in conflict with the law, as well as crime prevention workshops, correctional programs and victim-offender mediations for anyone in need of the programming. 

YTC Chief Isabel O’Soup told CBC News Tuesday afternoon that consistent progress with justice outreach in the communities will mean fewer Indigenous people being incarcerated.

“Our overall goal is to really try and teach our young people, teach our people, to make different choices. And if they do make the wrong choice, then there’s always measures within our [power] that can help them to steer away from a criminal record,” said O’Soup. 

The YTC’s tribal justice unit does not serve those who are incarcerated, but those who are at risk or have previously been incarcerated. It represents six First Nations in the Treaty 4 territory: Cote, Keeseekoose, The Key, Zagime Anishinabek, Kahkewistahaw and Ocean Man First Nations.

Through their tribal justice unit, YTC works with communities to develop and implement justice programs that are sensitive to the cultural needs of First Nations members on reserve, as well as in urban environments in Saskatchewan. 

A flag showing the symbols for six Saskatchewan First Nations.
The Yorkton Tribal Council represents six First Nations in the Treaty 4 territory: Cote, Keeseekoose, The Key, Zagime Anishinabek, Kahkewistahaw & Ocean Man First Nations. (Yorkton Tribal Council)

O’Soup said that while many of the people they help are from surrounding First Nations, the YTC helps both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people who have had interactions with the justice system. But O’Soup said people who need their services need to take that first step and reach out. 

“We offer all kinds of educational programs about healthy relationships and healthy choices. But we can only reach out so much. We need people to reach out to us,” said O’Soup. 

Making long-term changes

On Tuesday the federal government said the objective of the YTC’s services is to encourage equal treatment and full participation of First Nations within the Canadian justice system.

“Supporting Indigenous-led approaches to the administration of justice is an essential component of advancing reconciliation in Canada,” said Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti in a news release Tuesday. 

“Through this funding, we recognize the important role YTC plays in improving access to justice and fairness for their Member First Nations.”

The federal government said the long-term goal of the programs is to reduce rates of victimization, crime and incarceration among First Nations people in Saskatchewan.

A brick building with flags nearby under a blue sky.
The Yorkton Tribal Council building where the justice unit operates. (Yorkton Tribal Council)

Terri-Ann Lepowick, director of justice for the YTC, said they are trying to focus on healing, restorative justice diversion programming and how best to serve the unique needs of each First Nation and their members. 

“They all are a little different. So what might be happening on Keeseekoose and some of the issues that they have might have may be a little bit different than what Ocean Man is dealing with,” Lepowick said.

“So we really target each of the communities and listen to what they need as a community and then build our programs to that community, and that’s what will help with [Indigenous] overrepresentation in the justice system.”

Lepowick said land-based learning and cultural outreach is also helpful in justice outreach. 

“Even to get people connected with elders and putting on a lot of those prevention programs … if a lot of these funding dollars are put into that, that would help us with the overrepresentation in the jails,” said Lepowick.

The YTC justice unit has collaborated with the federal government on justice program for decades. Lepowick said the council also regularly applies for grants for new initiatives.


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