Manitoba cancels current beading program inside jails

Province says program changed over ‘concerns.’

A Winnipeg-based beading course meant to help incarcerated Indigenous women inside the province’s jails is being limited by a new program say critics.

The initiative was created by Sandra Burling who connects beaders in jail with buyers. All profits go back to the inmates.

The beading helped Mary-Ann Sawicki get through her incarceration.

“Reconnecting with your culture, it’s very therapeutic,” she told APTN News. “It passed the time quickly. I bead every day. I always have people messaging me. I make a lot of custom beadwork for a lot of people.”

Mary-Ann Sawicki at the beading program. Photo: supplied.

Sawicki spent seven months at the Headingly jail just to the west of Winnipeg.

The program hasn’t been cancelled – but it’s being limited by the Manitoba government.

According to the province, it’s “transitioning to a new model and the beading craft will be continued in the facility in a way that will increase access for inmates free of charge while alleviating concerns associated with the previous program.”

A provincial spokesperson wouldn’t tell APTN what those concerns are.

According to the new rules, beading can only leave the jail during holidays – such as Mother’s Day or Christmas.

Nahanni Fontaine, a member of the Manitoba NDP, brought the issue up in the legislature.

“Beading is medicine to our women. It offers healing, empowerment and pride,” she said. “These women are seeking their financial independence through this beading program. Can the minister tell us when this program will be fully restored?”

Kelvin Goertzen, minister of Justice in Manitoba, didn’t offer up much of an explanation.

“The program is transitioning so more of the inmates can participate in the program the beads will still be the personal property of the inmates they can distribute those at special occasions.”

Sawicki, who is now out of jail, is a full time beader. She said the new program may cause setbacks.

“I don’t think it’s fair to take that away because they’re going to get out with nothing and then they’re going to fall back with getting in trouble with crime and end up back in the same situation they were already in,” she said.

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