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Calls to Action #30 & 31 towards Territorial Preventative Measures

Tansi Nîtôtemtik/Negha Dagondih,

When we think of justice, sometimes we think of how to treat people within systems, but when we take a few steps back we can see that there are preventative measures that we can take that may lead to a more positive outcome. In what ways do you think our levels of government can participate in preventative change? How can our communities engage in preventative change? How can you engage in preventative change?

Call to Action #30 states “We call upon federal, provincial, and territorial governments to commit to eliminating the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in custody over the next decade, and to issue detailed annual reports that monitor and evaluate progress in doing so.”[1]

Call to Action #31 states “We call upon the federal, provincial, and territorial governments to provide sufficient and stable funding to implement and evaluate community sanctions that will provide realistic alternatives to imprisonment for Aboriginal offenders and respond to the underlying causes of offending.”[2]

Let us imagine something together. Imagine there is a small island community, and that community is located in the Northwest Territories and during the Winter months temperatures drop below -30C on average. Now imagine there are those that reside in, or visit, the community and are in need of shelter and warmth but there is none. A lack of shelter may ne hard to fathom since the weather, wild animals, and freezing winds can be dangerous and even lethal but without it, some people may decide to break into vehicles, garages, and even houses to get out of the cold. What was an act of survival then becomes a criminal charge. The individual is arrested, perhaps goes to jail, and likely repeats this cycle. If there was a preventative measure/program in place, Calls to Action #30 and #31 become a little more realized. If preventative measures are in place like heated shelter, then that indirectly becomes a way to eliminate overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in custody; and becomes a method where funding can go towards a community initiative that creates an alternative to imprisonment by eliminating the need for a break and entry and subsequent arrest.

Enter Fort Simpson in the NT, “where the Łı́ı́dlı̨ Kų́e First Nation, the Village of Fort Simpson and the NWT Housing Corporation” came together, along with the owner of the Unity convenience store - Muaz Hassan - to make a warming shelter a reality.[3]

At the time, Mayor Sean Whelly said that many people couch surf, or stay with relatives because affordable housing is hard to find in the community.[4] While the shelter was originally meant as a place for people to warm up, it became clearer that with people stranded in Fort Simpson due to transportation issues, or kicked out of their homes, the shelter was serving the purpose of overnight shelter.[5] Initially, there were funding concerns, and Hassan decided to push through making necessary renovations to the space personally, paying out of pocket till funding could come through.[6]

This most recent winter season - and the one we are still in - saw the shelter receive approximately $200,000 in funding from September 2021 to March 2022 to support the cost of staff, renovations, furniture, administration, and operation.[7] The territorial government came to realize that a shelter in Fort Simpson during the winter months was necessary, as last winter 2-7 people per night were accessing and using the shelter.[8] The Northwest Territories Housing Corporation has backed shelters in territorial communities by committing efforts, funding, and resources through their Northern Pathways and Housing Program, where communities have and can expect an expansion of support for housing and shelter; likely from the publicity and proven need made clear by Fort Simpson’s shelter efforts.[9]

By providing shelter and warmth people are safe, which prevents the cycle of possible break and enters to survive in harsh climates which can lead to arrest and incarceration, and helps to preventatively offer an alternative to imprisonment down the road. Through a sense of community, support, and togetherness, the village of Fort Simpson was (and is) able to indirectly fulfill objectives of the Calls to Action. Whether the efforts were directly done in response to the TRC’s vision of Call to Action participation, let us recognize that when we band together we can achieve goals aimed towards Indigenous equity and justice. The efforts seem to be indirect preventative measures to Calls to Action #30 and 31, but they certainly count. Sometimes it is the actions we take as a community that can help achieve the Calls to Action too.

The thought of this story really warms one’s heart.

Until next time,

Team ReconciliAction YEG

[1] Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, “Calls to Action”, (2015) at 3, online (pdf): Government of B.C. <www2.gov.bc.ca> https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/british-columbians-our-governments/indigenous-people/aboriginal-peoples-documents/calls_to_action_english2.pdf

[2] Ibid at 3.

[3] “Fort Simpson forges ahead with new warming shelter”, CBC News North (Dec. 8, 2020) online: <cbc.ca> https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/fort-simpson-warming-shelter-1.5832115 [CBC North]

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Fort Simpson prepares to reopen warming shelter for winter”, Toronto Star (Sept. 13, 2021) online: <thestar.com> [Toronto Star] https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2021/09/13/fort-simpson-prepares-to-reopen-warming-shelter-for-winter.html

[6] CBC North, supra note 3.

[7] Toronto Star, supra note 5.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “Paulie Chinna: Shelters”, Government of Northwest Territories (Dec. 2, 2021) online: <gov.nt.ca> https://www.gov.nt.ca/en/newsroom/paulie-chinna-shelters

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