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Edmonton - Native people in conflict with the law was the subject of a three-day national conference held here recently with representation from federal and provincial governments and native organizations.
The National Conference on Native People and the Justice System evolved from a meeting of federal and provincial ministers on corrections in Ottawa last year.
The ministers at that time recommended a national conference with native organizations.
The conference was conducted in a seminar type meeting, which was divided into five workshops on probation, parole and aftercare, administration of justice, prevention, policing, courts and institutions.
Native people from across the country with a variety of backgrounds were chosen to chair the sessions. Chosen from the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians was Executive Director, Cliff Starr.
The following is the Brief presented to the conference by the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians:
Arrangements in the past and at the present time are for Indian people to be considered, for purpose-of correctional services, the responsibility of the province. When they commit criminal offenses, they are incarcerated in provincial or federal institutions and are treated the same as people from white non-Indian society. In many other respects, Indians are not treated as full citizens of the province.
This has lead to a situation where neither level of government has taken any particular responsibility for the law enforcement and correctional needs of Indian communities and of Indian people. We all know that the process of incarcerating peoples does not deal with or solve any real problems. We are also aware there are alternatives in the form of community corrections programs including preventative programs, which are more effective than correctional institutions. However, the province takes the view that they do not have responsibility for initiating such programs on Indian reserves. Traditionally the federal government has taken the view that the responsibility for such services, as well as institutional services, where sentences were less than two years were the responsibility of the province.
This has created a no man's land where the Indian's needs and problems in this area are recognized or dealt with in any effective way.
It is the position of the FSI that the jurisdictional responsibility for the correctional needs and law enforcement needs of Indian people rests with the federal government. We believe that it is quite clear from a study of treaties and of the Indian Act that this is the case. Treaty Number 4, for example, finishes off with a paragraph regarding an agreement between the Indians and Her Majesty dealing with a promise on the part of the Indians to obey and abide by the law and to maintain peace and good order between themselves and the rest of society. Correspondence between Indian Commissioner Laid and the Indian Affairs Department in Ottawa stresses the fact that the Indian Chief and his council could be a great help in law enforcement.
The treaty also includes an agreement between the Indians and Her Majesty that they would assist in bringing to justice and punishment, Indians offending against the laws of the country. A similar stipulation is included in treaties made with other Indians in the province of Saskatchewan.
We believe that it is quite clear from these that the federal government promised and intended that law and order and what we generally now call corrections, is a responsibility of the federal government in the case of Indians. This belief is further reinforced by the Indian Act, which makes reference to the responsibility of the local band to undertake the maintenance of law and order, to make bylaws and to act in other ways to assist the federal authorities to, deal with the illegal actions of Indians.
The Indian Act is a federal act and we therefore believe this further supports the view that the federal government had accepted responsibility for the correctional needs of Indians.
We appeal to the federal government at this time to acknowledge that they do have such a responsibility and to accept this responsibility and carry it out in appropriate ways.
In particular, the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians believes that the federal government should make available to band councils, resources to develop community correctional programs. In addition, we believe that where Indian offenders must be incarcerated in provincial institutions, the federal government should enter into negotiations with the provincial government to ensure that there are programs and services designed to deal with the unique problems and needs of Indians in provincial institutions.
As we have already indicated above, the prevention of crime and delinquency makes much more sense than trying to Punish offenders. We all know from experience that punishing offenders brings minimal returns in terms of reformed behavior on the part of such offenders. Neither does it have much impact, particularly in Indian communities, as an example to others who might engage in similar behavior.
In addition, we know that it is very expensive to provide the law enforcement services, the judicial services and the correctional facilities needed to deal with these offenders.
We would therefore request that Indian Affairs immediately consider developing a community corrections program designed to help upgrade the social and economic environment of Indian reserves as well as to provide a variety of community services which will open interesting alternatives to young Indian people. Many at present get into difficulty with the law because of idleness and the lack of any meaning in their lives.
Such programs could include programs of a cultural nature, leisure time programs, adequate policing on Indian reserves. Where Indians so desire, the policing of Indian reserves should be done locally. In particular, we would recommend that the Department of Indian Affairs makes monies available to enable reserves to develop programs to train their own people to work with those who exhibit difficult behaviour in the community and who have a tendency toward involvement in activity of a delinquent or trim, anal nature.
Educational programs could be seen as part of a preventative program. However, we have included it as a separate program. We feel that there is a need for intensive activities at the local community level to make the Indian aware of the law, of the judicial system, of his rights under the law and of the provisions in treaties and in the Indian Act regarding law enforcement and the correctional needs of Indian people.
We believe that what is required is a series of workshops on local reserves to deal with these matters. These workshops could provide relevant information and discuss this information in view of the situation as it now exists on the reserves. They can also provide the setting in which community people can discuss what programs they would like to see develop, how they believe law enforcement should be accomplished, etc.
This will enable reserve people to develop goals and objectives and to make specific plans for action, which help them achieve these goals and objectives.
We recognize that because crime and delinquency have become a serious problem on Indian reserves, they will continue to be a problem for some time to come. However, we believe alternatives to institutional services should be considered. There are a variety of community services, which we would like to see developed. Again this would require the training of Indian people to work with other Indian people
We would like probation vices used more frequently as alternative to incarceration. In deed we will urge the federal government to ensure that judges and magistrates do no resort to sentencing Indian people to institutions, except where this is absolutely necessary for the protection of the individual or for the protection of other residents of the community. Other reasons for removal of people might be the maintenance of law and order.
Probation services are often not available to Indian people The reason they are not available to Indian people is because of the isolated geographic lots lion of Indian reserves and the fact that courts cannot get access to the kind of counselling and rehabilitation help which they believe offenders should have if they are put on probation.
We believe that if Indian Affairs helped band councils develop their own probation services or helped them to train people to act as probation officers, this would go a long way to meet the needs of Indian people in this area. It would at the same time provide an alternative to incarceration to the courts.
Coupled with this, we believe that much more frequent use should be made of parole for Indian offenders. This type of correctional service is reserved for those people who have been incarcerated in correctional institutions and where it is felt there is a good rehabilitation potential. Such people are released under certain conditions into the community where there is assurance of supervision, guidance, counselling and other rehabilitation services. Again, Indians who wish to return to reserves are seldom considered for parole. This we believe is because parole offenders employed by the National Parole Board, as well as voluntary agencies, providing such services are concentrating in the urban areas. Local people should be trained to be counsellors. They could work with young people, could provide probation services and where needed could also be designated as parole officers by the National Parole Board.
Where it is necessary for offenders to be in either provincial or federal institutions, we believe that special institutional programs should be developed for Indian offenders. Indians have cultural values, social values and economic values, which are different from those of the white man. Present Institutions tend to have programs geared to the needs of the white community. They overlook the fact that Indians are different and that Indian offenders have different needs. We do urge the federal government to enter into negotiations with the province and with the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians to ensure that programs are available which are appropriate to the needs of Indians who will be returning to their reserve communities.
We believe that the same applies in the case of federal institutions. The Department of Indian Affairs should immediately enter into discussions with the Solicitor General's department and with the officials of the penitentiary services to ensure that special programs of training as well as other opportunities are made available to Indian people. We also believe that more attention should be given to training and utilizing Indian people as correctional workers in these correctional institutions. It is clear from our experience and from the experience of others that such indigenous workers can communicate better with their own people, that they better understand the values and needs of their own people, and that they therefore can be more effective in helping Indian offenders deal with problems and to look at new and alternative ways of living in the community.
We believe that it is quite clear from the treaties and from the Indian Act that the responsibility for a. wide variety of, community services 'including"' the maintenance of lave and order and dealing with offenders rests with the Chief and his band council.
We therefore would request that the Department of Indian Affairs makes additional resources available to band councils to help them develop such programs. We also request that they make the resources of consultants and experts available to assist band councils in this regard. Such resources could be made available by either having staff within the Department of Indian Affairs or by making resources available which would enable Indian bands to seek these resources outside of the Department of Indian Affairs.
We believe that Indians could play a very important part in reducing the incidence of crime and delinquency in the case of the reserve communities. It is quite clear that such responsibilities rest with the b and council. We would request that the Department of Indian Affairs accept complete responsibility for providing the necessary resources to the band councils to ensure that they can provide the service, or see that it is provided.
We also would recommend that the band councils be given the choice of doing their own policing or of entering into service arrangements with the RCMP. Some band councils will be ready to take on direct responsibility for the maintenance of law and order on the reserves. Others may not have reached the point in the their administration or in the development of their community and leadership where they feel they
Another problem area for Indian people is that they do not generally have access to legal services. Lawyers and the law have been largely unknown to Indians. However, when they were accused of something by the white man, they tended to plead guilty because they were accused. They did not know heir rights and often went to ail when they should not have one to jail. To ensure that here is equal justice for Indian people, there must be an adequate system of legal aid services available. Indians generally lave lower incomes and cannot afford the cost of lawyers. Furthermore their culture is arch that they would not look favorably on spending money or legal services when they have many, other pressing needs.
The provincial government is now in the process of developing legal aid clinics in the province of Saskatchewan. These legal aid clinics are to have responsibility for the provision of legal id services in various geographic areas. Here again we believe the federal government could recognize their responsibility to provide such services to Indians. Because Indians tend to be in isolated areas and have communications problems, believe that a program of indigenous counselling and information officers are essential to ensure that legal aid services are developed and work to the advantage of Indian people.
We would therefore ask Indian Affairs to enter into negotiations with the province to ensure that the services of the legal aid clinics, which are being established, are available.
Second, we request that Indian Affairs make resources available to local reserves to enable them to hire counsellors either for one reserve or for a group of reserves who would work very closely with the legal aid clinics. They would reach out and make known that these services are available to Indian people. We would further request that Indian Affairs make the resources available to develop training programs required to train counsellors and information workers.
One of the Indian's problems has been that laws have been applied differently to the Indian than to the white man. In part, this is related to problems that we have already identified. There is often discriminatory application of the law because Indians do not know their rights or do not have access to legal services.
We are also however, concerned as are many Indian communities, about the fact that white juries and courts tend to show a kind of reverse discrimination in dealing with Indian offenders. This is particularly true in the case of Indians who are charged with offenses involving violence. If white man kills another white-man, he may end up receiving 20 years. However, if an Indian kills an Indian, he might end up with a manslaughter conviction and a two-year sentence. We believe this indicates that white juries place less value on the life of an Indian than they do on the life of a white man.
Dangerous offenders should be removed from society. Dangerous offenders should also be removed from the Indian society. We believe that we have the same right to protection from such dangerous offenders as the white community.
We are also aware that similar attitudes are taken in regard to offenses involving rape and other forms of assault. White judges and white courts tend to view these offenses differently when one Indian commits such offenses against another Indian.
In part, we think this is related to the fact that judges view Indians as being less moral. Therefore they view the commission of sexual assaults as less serious when committed against Indian women. We would like to suggest that rape is rape regardless of the color of the skin of the woman who is on the receiving end of such an assault. We also believe that offenders who commit such acts should be given equal sentences for equal offenses, whether the person offended against is white or Indian.
There are other examples of discrimination in the law, we do not wish to go into all of them here. We simply wish to emphasis that such discrimination does occur. We would request the Department of Indian Affairs to enter into discussions with the province to bring such problems to their attention and to attempt to develop mechanisms and procedures to ensure that Indians are equally protected by the law.
Finally we believe that our experience shows that as reserves develop, many of the problems of violence, crime and delinquency which result from idleness, become less severe. Therefore, we would urge the Department of Indian Affairs to ensure that any initiatives it takes in the correction area are very closely tied in with initiatives to provide adequate resources for the development of reserves.
This will include resources for housing, health services, recreation and social services, and in particular, economic development. If there is to be significant improvement on Indian reserves and if there is to be a desirable atmosphere of law and order, there must be significant economic development. This must be development of the kind, which provides meaningful occupations to Indians and provides employment to all able bodied working Indians on the reserve communities. Without such opportunities, disintegration of Indian society and its symptoms such as crime and delinquency will continue to be a problem. Also without such development, those Indians who are returning to reserves from correctional institutions will not have any meaningful alternatives to aid them in their re-establishment and rehabilitation. In the absence of such opportunities, they are quite likely to turn to alcoholism and other forms of behaviour, which will bring them into further difficulty with the law.
In summary, we would urge the federal government through the Department of Indian Affairs to:
a. Acknowledge and recognize its responsibility for the correctional services and needs of Indian offenders.
b. Recognize its responsibility for the provision of resources, which will enable reserves to maintain law and order on those reserves.
c. Place major effort and emphasis in the area of community correctional services including services, which are of an educational and preventative nature.
d. Enter into discussions with provincial authorities to ensure that special provisions are made for the correctional needs of Indian offenders in provincial institutions and in the case of probation at the community level.
e. Recognize that many of the problems of Indian people and Indian communities result from the disintegration of Indian culture and Idleness on Indian reserves.
These are expressions of the lack of development. We believe that the federal government must accept its responsibility to make adequate resources available for development. If it is not prepared to do this, then Indians and other citizens of the country will pay a high price in the form of added law enforcement costs, judicial costs, added costs of legal services and of providing institutional correctional services.
Because this is an exceedingly serious problem in many reserve communities, we would urge the federal government to enter into discussions with the Federation in order to initiate some immediate action in the above area.