Healing lodge for youth one of ‘best things’ to happen to Thompson in a long time: mayor

Thompson will soon get a new health lodge that will help pair northern First Nations youth in the justice system with culturally informed supports.

On Friday, Manitoba Justice announced $2 million for the creation of the centre and said more funds would be invested in the future.

The lodge, to be run by Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, aims to bring additional justice resources to the north, reduce recidivism rates and lower the use of Thompson RCMP’s holding cells for non-violent, intoxicated youth.

MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee says First Nations leaders have for many years advocated for real, immediate strategies to address overrepresentation of Indigenous people and youth in the justice system.

“This is a good day for us to start being proactive in preventing the young people from entering in those systems,” he said.

The announcement comes one day after the province announced plans to shutter the Agassiz Youth Centre in Portage la Prairie due to falling incarceration numbers. Justice Minister Kelvin Goerzen said Thursday that closure would enable the government to add capacity in the north.

The $2-million health lodge investment will first be used to provide services closer to home for northern youth and be informed by elders and knowledge keepers, Settee says.

This will be, I believe, transformational for the youth who are involved.– Justice Minister Kelvin Goerzen

Those services will include creating local resources such as local, open-custody beds designed to help youth transition back into the community while they’re also connected with traditional healing practices, Goertzen says.

“We know that there are many youth that are getting sentenced to youth corrections and are serving their entire sentence often far away from their home, maybe in facilities that don’t have the cultural connection to their faith and to their traditions, and that needs to change,” Goertzen said at a news conference in Thompson on Friday.

“This will be, I believe, transformational for the youth who are involved.”

Phases two and three of the program will include the creation of the healing lodge itself, job and skills training and community justice resources, and increased mental health and addictions supports, according to a news release.

Youth in the Thompson area who are detained under the Intoxicated Persons Detention Act currently are placed in cells in the local RCMP detachment. The health lodge program would provide spaces for those youth and find transitional housing for those at-risk.

Later on, the province says, there will be a “one-stop-shop” for youth to get support with mental health, addictions and housing issues.

“Our youth are the most important assets we have,” Thompson Mayor Colleen Smook said Friday. “It’s definitely one of the best things that’s happened to Thompson in a long time.”

Thompson Mayor Colleen Smook says the health lodge stems from input from three dozen northern organizations in recent years as well as collaboration with the provincial government. (CBC)

More than half of Thompson’s population is Indigenous, Smook says, but she feels a responsibility to the thousands more from surrounding communities that depend on the city as a northern hub.

Smook says the announcement grows from discussions from a decade ago as part of the Thompson Economic Diversification Group, which identified the need for a restorative justice facility that never materialized.

“Obviously we didn’t have all the right people at the table at the time,” Smook said.

Shmook credits action on the health lodge to a community wellbeing and safety action plan that included input from MKO, the province and 29 other organizations in recent years.

Settee says MKO and the province have been working closely to transform justice systems in the north to develop culturally relevant programs and service for First Nations youth.

He said the health lodge and programming will save lives.

“They need access to programs and resources to be able to navigate their way from inter-generational impacts of residential schools, the Sixties Scoop, the day schools and the child welfare system,” Settee said.

“This is an opportunity for the youth to access the help they need so they don’t go into the system any further.”

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