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Manitoba hands over Indigenous court worker program to ‘rights holder’ groups

Friday, July 02, 2021 @ 3:49 PM | By Terry Davidson

Manitoba is handing responsibility for the province’s Indigenous court workers over to Indigenous-led organizations.

According to a June 29 news release, the government “will transition operations of the Indigenous Court Workers (ICW) Program to Indigenous rights holder organizations in key regional and circuit court locations.”

Manitoba Justice Minister Cameron Friesen called the move “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,” said Friesen in a statement.  

The role of an Indigenous court worker is to provide culturally based support when helping Indigenous people navigate the court system. They can attend court with an accused, provide support to their families, help lawyers understand the resources that are available and can help ensure victims and their families are put in touch with various community-based services.

The Indigenous groups that will now handle the court workers program include Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, the Manitoba Metis Federation, the Southern Chiefs’ Organization and the Island Lake Tribal Council.

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Garrison Settee said MKO is happy to “take the lead.”

“Over the years, the program has been a valuable resource,” said Settee. “Today’s announcement will assist with the implementation of restorative justice in northern Manitoba. Indigenous court workers provide culturally relevant services for Indigenous citizens involved with the justice system. Today’s announcement also marks an important step toward truth and reconciliation and the implementation of the … Calls to Action. The transition of the Indigenous Court Worker Program to Indigenous organizations will greatly improve cultural safety for our citizens, their families, and their communities.”

The province will support the groups in the program’s transition by providing grants of more than $1 million per year for two years.

Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO) Grand Chief Jerry Daniels also lauded the move, saying Canada’s “first peoples … have suffered at the hands of the justice system, facing racism, overrepresentation, neglect, violence and abuse.”

“Now, 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.”

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