Justice Institute of British Columbia aims to integrate more Indigenous knowledge in training of public-safety workers

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      The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada called upon federal, provincial, and territorial governments “to commit to eliminating the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in custody over the next decade”.

      But achieving this objective will require far more people working in the justice system to have a much greater understanding of Indigenous cultures.

      More than a year ago, the Justice Institute of B.C. appointed Freida Gladue as its program manager in the Office of Indigenization.

      A member of the Salteau First Nation with extensive experience in child and family services, she says the goal is to “support decolonization, Indigenization, and engagement within Indigenous communities”.

      “We’re trying to integrate more of the Indigenous knowledge into several of the institute’s divisions,” Gladue says. “Most of this content will be fairly new for the mainstream because it has not been included, and it really is a representation of what I believe is the true history of our country.”

      The JIBC has six campuses and offers education to paramedics, firefighters, law-enforcement officers, security personnel, bylaw-enforcement officers, and many others working in the public-safety field.

      “We’re connected with several different divisions that are very open and welcoming and also want to work toward building a better relationship with Indigenous people,” Gladue says. “This makes me a lot more hopeful in the position I’m in.”

      At the same time, she would like to help foster a greater understanding of the importance of Indigenous ceremonies and First Nations’ connection to the land.

      With a hearty laugh, Gladue says her “ultimate dream” is to get professionals in public safety to not only visit a sweat-lodge ceremony but also attend a Sun Dance or experience a Yuwipi ceremony.

      “A majority of people don’t even understand the ceremonial and the spiritual side behind our community,” she says, switching to a more serious tone. “I believe that’s the core of our people. That was cut and severed from our identities and it’s why we’re in the predicament we’re in at this time.”

      The JIBC has developed an Indigenous “health garden”, Gladue adds. It enables faculty and students to learn more about typical uses of traditional medicines.

      “What I like to tell the senior staff is we are slowly building back a nation that has been fractured,” she explains. “And we do that in activities that are usually connected to land. So you may think berry-picking is just picking a berry, but that is also nurturing and developing a relationship so some trust can start to develop between individuals.

      “That’s how we connect and how we move forward: when we know we have that trust between each other,” Gladue continues. “We can challenge bigger things together. When we’re together, it’s easier to face larger challenges than when you’re solo.”

      At the same time, she doesn’t believe it’s possible to achieve true reconciliation without decolonization.

      “There is enough space for all of us,” she says with assurance. “There’s no need to have this fear that you’re going to lose something.”