Indigenous Healing in Federal Corrections

Practice Point

Indigenous Healing in Federal Corrections

October 2, 2019

MANY OF THE ELDERS WERE CHILD SURVIVORS of the residential school system. Today they are both literally and figuratively the grandparents of the Indigenous offenders they now attend to. Their grandchildren carry the wounds that have been passed on to them through generations of pain.
(Correctional Service of Canada (CSC))

Although Canada’s Criminal Code mandates that all sanctions other than imprisonment are to be considered with particular attention to the circumstances of Aboriginal offenders, the proportion of Aboriginal admissions to adult custody has been trending upwards for a decade (Statistics Canada). Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger wrote in 2017:

Between 2007 and 2016, while the overall federal prison population increased by less than 5%, the Indigenous prison population increased by 39%.28 For the last three decades, there has been an increase every single year in the federal incarceration rate for Indigenous people.29 Today, while Indigenous people make up less than 5% of the Canadian population, as a group they comprise 26.4% of the total federal inmate population. 37.6% of the federal women inmate population is Indigenous. I cannot help but think that the over-incarceration of First Nations, Métis and Inuit people in corrections is among the most pressing social justice and human rights issues in Canada today.

Wagner C.J.C. of the Supreme Court of Canada calls the over-incarceration of Indigenous people in Canada a “terrible situation” and “unacceptable.” Canadian medical researchers call it a health crisis.

A Traditional Path

“Currently (in 2019), across all CSC institutions, approximately 85 per cent of CSC’s Indigenous offenders are working with Elders and committed or interested in following a traditional path [within a healing lodge],” according to CSC.


A CSC Commissioner’s Directive explains the Pathways Concept:

As part of the Continuum of Care (see Annex B of CD 702 – Aboriginal Offenders), a Pathways Initiative provides a path of healing within institutions for offenders who demonstrate a commitment to follow traditional healing as a way of life, 24 hours a day. Pathways is first and foremost an Elder-driven intensive healing initiative, that reinforces a traditional Aboriginal way of life through more intensive one-to-one counselling, increased ceremonial access, and an increased ability to follow a more traditional Aboriginal healing path consistent with Aboriginal traditional values and beliefs. Only offenders who have already made a serious commitment to pursue their healing journey, and who have worked significantly with Elders to address areas of healing, are to be placed on a Pathways Initiative. The Elder services, programming and interventions provided in this environment are intensive and directed to individuals’ personal healing. The services available must be above and beyond the services that CSC is required to make available to all Aboriginal offenders. Although it is clearly most appropriate for Aboriginal offenders, on rare occasions a non-Aboriginal offender may be a good candidate for Pathways interventions.

Healing Lodges

In BC’s federal correctional facilities, there is a healing lodge called Huli Tun at Pacific Institution/Regional Treatment Centre in Abbotsford and another called Kwìkwèxwelhp Healing Village in Harrison Mills.

Huli Tun

The Huli Tun (Healing Lodge) at Pacific Institution, situated on Stó:lō Nation territory, is a way of life as much as a physical structure. The word ‘Huliitun’ is a Hul’qumi’num word, best described as “a new beginning through the realization of a life force or spiritual strength”, or “the inner strength that keeps you alive”. The Huli Tun represents the desire to change, grow, and learn in all aspects, the mind, the body, the emotions and the spirit[.]
(First Nations Health Authority, Year in Review Report 2011-2012: A Partnership View of Aboriginal Wellness, page 27)


[Kwìkwèxwelhp] means “where medicine is collected”. Kwìkwèxwelhp has the only longhouse within Canada’s correctional facilities. The institution is known as the fifth longhouse on the traditional territory of Sts’ailes. Staff and Elders practice traditional and holistic Indigenous teachings. The facility provides holistic programs, as well as training and maintenance skills to improve employability.
(Correctional Service of Canada)

Interventions Centre

Also at Pacific Institution, in 2018 the Pacific Region of the Correctional Service of Canada

celebrated the opening ceremony for Pacific Institution’s medium-security interventions centre, Lalem Xeyíyá:qt, ‘Home of the Transforming Warrior’ with community members from the local Indigenous communities of Seabird, Sumas and Matsqui participating in the naming ceremony.
(Correctional Service of Canada, 2017-18 Departmental Results Report)

While the Correctional Investigator wrote in 2017 that the CSC “has yet to develop tools to assess how culturally specific correctional interventions for Indigenous offenders, such as Elder services, Healing Lodges, Pathways Initiatives and partnerships with community groups and organizations contribute to an offender’s progress toward successful reintegration,” a filmmaker allowed inmates and Elders to explain the importance of Elders’ presence within correctional facilities: “[T]he Elders are probably the only ones who can help First Nations, Métis and Inuit offenders reconnect with their Indigenous roots.”

We acknowledge that the land on which we work is the unceded territory of the Coast Salish peoples, including the territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.