Groups slam province for funding non-Indigenous-led organization working to keep youth out of justice system

A coalition of Indigenous-led organizations say they were shocked to learn the Manitoba government has awarded $2.25 million through a social impact bond to a non-Indigenous-led organization to help keep Indigenous youth out of the justice system, while the province says the program itself is guided by an Indigenous team.

On Monday, the province announced a partnership with social service organization Marymound to work with at least 45 Indigenous youth — 15 in Thompson and 30 in Winnipeg — over the next three years to help reduce recidivism rates.

The Winnipeg Indigenous Executive Circle, which is made up of 32 organizations that work to support the city’s Indigenous population, criticized the provincial government on Friday for not partnering with or including Indigenous-led non-profits in the consultation process.

“We were shocked, concerned and saddened that yet another government and these foundations are handing over the administration of an Indigenous-focused program to a church-based organization,” Dodie Jordaan, executive director of Ka Ni Kanichihk and a Winnipeg Indigenous Executive Circle member, said in a statement.

“This is a missed opportunity to renew efforts to reverse the lasting effects of residential schools.”

In a statement, the province said Marymound’s program will be culturally informed and “guided and delivered by an Indigenous team.”

Marymound, founded over a century ago by the Catholic Sisters of the Good Shepherd, was originally conceived as a way of keeping young women and girls out of the justice system, the organization’s website says.

Girls judged delinquent by the courts could be sentenced to Marymound, and parents and social agencies could also send girls to the reform school, historian Tanya Woloschuk wrote for the Manitoba Historical Society.

The last nuns left the organization in 2014.

Marymound provides crisis supports, youth addictions and sexual abuse treatment programs, group housing, foster care, clinical supports and cultural health services for at-risk youth and families, among other services.

The province’s social impact bond will include a wraparound approach that will use input from family, friends, ceremonies and other activities to help decide what supports are most appropriate for individual youth in the program, Marymound said.

Marymound elder-in-residence Louise Lavallee named the program Zaagiwe Oshinawe Inaakonigewin, which translates to “love (the) youth (in) justice” in Anishinaabemowin. At the Monday announcement, she suggested the program will incorporate Indigenous knowledge to address the root causes of crime.

The province says the program incorporates recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action, the calls to justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and commitments in Manitoba’s criminal justice modernization strategy.

Through Indigenous leadership, a “wraparound model has been modified into an Indigenous framework, identifying this program as a ‘two-eyed seeing’ approach that is grounded in Indigenous research and knowledge,” the province says.

Kendell Joiner, co-chair of the Winnipeg Indigenous Executive Circle and executive director of the Native Clan Organization, says there are plenty of Indigenous-led non-profit groups in the province that could have been considered for the opportunity. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Kendell Joiner, executive director of the Native Clan Organization, said he doesn’t have any criticism of the work Marymound does, but he suggested the province partnering with an organization with ties to the Catholic church is “a giant misstep.”

“If this is an appropriate way to fund programs with non-Indigenous organizations … [by] tacking on, say, some sort of smaller-level consultation, without necessarily having the non-profit community that does this work already involved, it could just be …a general precedent to set with funding, and kind of the future of Indigenous non-profits and charities,” Joiner said.

Joiner, who is also co-chair of the Winnipeg Indigenous Executive Council, said he was hurt and suggested Indigenous-led groups weren’t made aware of a proposal from government. He said there are a number of suitable Indigenous non-profits working in the restorative justice and youth spaces that weren’t consulted.

He also raised concerns about the way social impact bonds are structured and how that could present barriers to Indigenous non-profits being competitive for future opportunities.

The province introduced social impact bonds in Manitoba in 2015. In 2019, Premier Heather Heather Stefanson, then families minister, championed the use of social impact bonds, saying they “focus on results.”

The bonds are intended to bring government, non-profit, private sector and other groups together to fund results-based social programming. Private investors foot the bill initially and are repaid if project and cost-saving goals are met, the province said.

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson says she hopes the new program aimed at Indigenous youth involved in the justice system will help curb gang activity. (Province of Manitoba)

The Marymound program is supported by nine financial investors from the private sector.

“As Indigenous organizations … there’s no way that we could find the investments ahead of time to fund a program for three years, let alone operate that program when we’re already so underfunded to begin with,” Joiner said.

Members of the Winnipeg Indigenous Executive Circle say they have reached out to the province and others involved. They hope to meet to discuss some of their concerns with the process.

A Marymound spokesperson said its executive director was unavailable to comment.

A spokesperson for the premier said two expressions of interest were posted in the lead up, “with the province giving careful consideration through Indigenous consultation and representation in selecting an organization.”

The process was “in depth … transparent and inclusive,” the premier’s office says, “rooted in an Indigenous worldview and teachings, aimed to provide holistic and healing supports to all Indigenous youth involved in the justice system.” 

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