Access to Indigenous-led justice services important way to achieve systemic change: lawyer

The executive director of Aboriginal Legal Services says money handed to Indigenous justice agencies by the federal government will help create programs that are needed at every stage in the criminal justice system.

On March 12, Justice Minister Arif Virani announced $2.1 million to support three Indigenous-led projects that aims to address the gross over-representation of Indigenous people in the justice system.

“The funding will guarantee that Aboriginal Legal Services can continue the support that’s needed, we were able to provide those services that some mainstream systems cannot address,” Chantell Barker told Nation to Nation host Annette Francis.

Those supports include an alternative resolution program that incorporates traditional practices and talking and healing circles with an Elder, family and community members.

“For the people that we’re serving, it is significant,” she said.

The money will also go to supports and resources for the Gladue writing program. Barker said the Gladue writers have a very full caseload.

“They could have like 10 reports or letters a month. So when you’re looking at that, you’re looking at hundreds of people that we can help,” she said. Gladue reports are documents written about the life of an Indigenous person accused of committing a crime to help the judge decide on a sentence.

Indigenous businesses and charities 

A new set of guidelines will make it a little easier to identify legitimate Indigenous businesses across the country. The National Indigenous Business Definitions document was released by the National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association (NACCA), an umbrella organization for a network of Indigenous financial institutions across Canada.

The definitions document can be found on the NACCA webpage.

“The business is 100% owned by an Indigenous Person who has sole responsibility for making decisions, receives all profits, claims all losses, assumes all risks, pays personal income tax (where applicable) on the net income generated by the business, and does not have separate legal status from the business,” the document said.

And for an Indigenous charitable organization, “The composition of the board of directors is at least 51% Indigenous directors. The charity’s purpose is to benefit Indigenous Peoples and communities in a way the law regards as charitable,” according to the document.

Dawn Madahbee-Leach is the general manager of the Waubetek Business Development Corporation. It delivers business financing and economic development services to First Nations and businesses located in north-eastern Ontario.

Madahbee-Leach helped to pen the document and said more than 20 Indigenous organizations participated in the development, which took about three years to complete.

She said there’s been an issue for many years of people falsely identifying as Indigenous to land procurement opportunities that are meant for First Nations, Metis or Inuit.  “That’s why we developed the definition because, we’re trying to make sure that we have a certified Indigenous business directory, that people can feel confident about using,” she said.

CAP wants a seat at the table.

The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples used to be included in national events across the country.  Over the years, the organization has fallen by the wayside when it comes to invites from Ottawa. Vice-Chief Kim Beaudin said it began when the Liberal government was elected.

“I believe they launched one of the biggest disinformation campaigns in Canadian history, history in terms of Indigenous people and how we define ourselves as people and that’s what they’re using and it’s called a distinction-based policy approach and it’s really hurting us and as a national Indigenous organization in Canada,” he said.

Beaudin said his organization has been place for 53 years and participated at a number of historical agreements over the years.

“We were at the Constitutional table as well, to me, I really believe they play a major role in terms of us, as an organization and where we’re going to go in the future,” he said.

But, he said they will be making a come-back “we’ve heard it from the opposition, I can say this for sure, they will be ensuring that we are back, the Liberal government under Trudeau is saying kind of like, ‘we don’t exist’ but, Poilievre said that we do, and they want us back.”

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