Responsibility for Manitoba’s Indigenous Court Workers Program is being transitioned to four Indigenous-led organizations, the province announced Tuesday.
Justice Minister Cameron Friesen said shifting the program, which helps Indigenous people navigate the court system, to Indigenous rights-holders is another step toward reconciliation.
“Shifting these resources to rights holder organizations who work directly with communities will ensure greater access to this valuable resource for Indigenous people who come in contact with the criminal justice system,” Friesen said.
The province will support the transition, Friesen said, with annual grants worth more than $1 million for two years to the organizations: Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF), the Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO) and the Island Lake Tribal Council (ILTC).
“For too long, the first peoples of this land have suffered at the hands of the justice system, facing racism, overrepresentation, neglect, violence and abuse,” said SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels on Tuesday.
“With today’s announcement of the devolution of the ICW program, we can begin to forge a new path forward based on mutual respect and a recognition of the need for Indigenous-led justice services and programs.
“SCO looks forward to hiring strong advocates, who will work every day on behalf of southern First Nations and their citizens to create better outcomes and opportunities for our people.”
MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee said the move is in line with calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“The transition of the Indigenous Court Worker Program to Indigenous organizations will greatly improve cultural safety for our citizens, their families, and their communities,” he said Tuesday.
“Over the years, the program has been a valuable resource. Today’s announcement will assist with the implementation of restorative justice in northern Manitoba.”
Through the program, Indigenous people in the court system will have access to resources, as well as a worker who will attend court with them, provide supports in their own language, and help the courts understand resources in the accused’s community.