Following the horrific stabbings and resulting deaths at James Smith Cree Nation and nearby communities in Saskatchewan, local Dakota Tipi First Nation Chief Dennis Pashe can relate with the problem of drugs and crime in Canadian reserves.
Pashe shares his deeply-concerned thoughts.
"Well, it certainly is a tragic situation and tragic event that happened," says Pashe. "I'm not really party to all the goings on that happened there. I know in our community, we've experienced a lot of meth and drugs. As any chief, it's certainly a challenge for us to try and address that need with treatment programs or trying to get the law enforced, if there's resistance to keep on doing that type of activity. Restricting access to the community by curfews and having a housing policy where people can't be selling meth in their homes or drugs or anything like that, is necessary. A lot of it is the legal system and justice system."
He notes the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry's recommendations have not been implemented in Manitoba.
"It seems the province has a hands-off approach to providing any kind of legal supports to the First Nation in terms of prevention," notes Pashe. "People are trying to get peace bonds and things like that and, as a whole, they're discouraged. They find, from the Crown's Office, it's almost like they want violence. The system seems to want violence as opposed to prevention. They only react if it's a really serious crime. Maybe that's the police funding model -- the more serious the crime, the more money the attachment gets. But there has to be some changes in the overall delivery of a legal system in the First Nations."
Pashe acknowledges that the First Nations have the highest number of negative statistics in Canada.
"The effort is not there from the governments to help us deal with those negative social determinants that we find in our communities, that are brought on by drugs and chemical addictions," continues Pashe. "So, it is a challenge for us, and sometimes, it's very scary. If we try to deal with it, the people in that psychosis and psychotic mentality because of the drugs... it gets pretty scary. But somebody has to grab that bull by the tail and deal with it. I guess that's what I have to do."
In response to the thoughts that many offenders are not being incarcerated long enough to adequately see them removed from causing more offences, Pashe couldn't agree more.
"In our community, there are people who are not band members that were doing negative activities," adds Pashe. "One person was put in jail. I thought it was a very serious crime that he committed. But he got out of jail and he's back in here on the reserve again. It was a really bad crime. I think the system needs to work with the community and say, 'Well, do you want this individual, who's not from here, back in your reserve?' Well, no, we don't. They need more input from us as First Nations."
He notes the system seems to have an archaic 1950 mentality in dealing with First Nations people.
"That has to change," says Pashe. They need to work in partnership and say, 'What is it that's going to address the First Nations public safety issues?' And it's not only for our First Nations people, but it's people who come to our businesses. Are they going to feel safe coming here? And so far, we're finding people don't."
Pashe adds changes are certainly necessary.
"We certainly need a lot of supports such as mental health," continues Pashe. "Back in the day when it was alcohol, we could recommend treatment programs, but now it's meth and it's a whole different medical requirement that's needed to treat people. So, those have to be identified. Right now, the whole health care system's in a crisis. So, I'm not sure how they're going to respond. I mean, I know people that have died who were arrested by the police and put in jail, but they didn't go through any medical procedures or any medical supports to detox them."
He explains there are many past policies such as loyalism, the loss of their land and resources, the residential school system, and loss of their languages, values, and culture as well as ways of governing.
"This Indian Act is certainly one of the detrimental legislations to our progress as people and toward our healing," says Pashe. "So, reconciliation has to be more than just saying nation to nation. That has to be given life. And what does that mean? That means 'sovereignty' for us."
Cllick here to read the Report of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba.