On Wednesday, Sept. 6, Aboriginal People Alliance Northern Ontario(APANO), Northern Lights Métis Council and Nishnawabe-Aski Legal Services Corporation held a community information resource fair at the Commando Pavilion to introduce residents to the various programs available to Indigenous People as it pertains to their rights in the legal system.
After APANO elder Howard Archibald conducted the opening prayer, Blaire Westberry began the fair with opening remarks.
She thanked everyone who took the time to attend the fair and gave some background for the event.
Westberry is the Executive Director of Programs at APANO. She noted that the organization is celebrating its 40th anniversary and while starting small has continued to grow.
“We now have programming in nine communities across Ontario,” she said.
Her goal for the event was to introduce the Blazing Trails for Indigenous Justice program that was in its final year of the pilot program. It is funded by the Anti Racism program of the Canadian Heritage Department of the Government of Canada.
Linda Archibald, APANO’s Community Wellness Program worker is on contract as the Indigenous Justice program worker at the APANO Cochrane office.
“Our hope today is that the students and those coming out will get some understanding of some of the rights in the youth justice system as well as the services that are available for them if ever they find they are in need of them,” said Archibald.
“The program,” Westberry noted “is to address the over-representation of Indigenous People in the Correctional System.”
“The program’s main focus is building relationships and, to provide participants with positive experiences with the justice system. It builds back trust and acknowledges past struggles and the intergenerational residential school trauma. The program honours Indigenous practices and customs and promotes two way knowledge exchange.”
Westberry concluded that “with this program we will be building a community that is healthy and equitable. So, that is why we are here today along with Nishnawabe-Aski Legal and Metis Nation of Ontario to let everyone know the services around them.”
Urgel Courville, President of the Northern Lights Métis Council “There are a lot of programs and it is an exciting time for our People that we can present all of these especially to the youth who need help, assistance and guidance.”
There were a number of guest speakers who touched on some of these services available like the Discharge Program, Restorative Justice, Bail Verification, Talking Together, Community Legal Workers, Victim Witness Liaison Workers, Gladue, and YCJA and Rights upon Arrest.
Students from various senior grades in local schools were given the opportunity to talk with representatives of a number of agencies to find out more on those initiatives.
Many of the programs were to offer assistance to those caught up in the criminal system by delving in the reasons why they have been incarcerated and how they can overcome some of the social, economical and cultural barriers that they face so they can meet the challenges and move toward healing and growth.
Event organizer Linda Archibald and Blair Westberry NLMC wanted to thank all the organizations who came out for the event, the volunteers who helped behind the scenes and the students from ESCHS and Aileen Wright grade 7/8 class for attending.
Westberry noted “The classes were well engaged in many of the presentations and had the opportunity to go to each booths to ask questions.”