Although they are locked up in a jail cell, inmates still have the right to cultural and spiritual expression.
© Herald photos by Jodi Schellenberg
Joyce Letendre sits inside the teepee that has been constructed as part of the new cultural centre at the Pine Grove Correctional Centre in Prince Albert.
The new First Nations and Métis cultural centre at the Pine Grove Correctional Centre in Prince Albert aims to help the women who are currently being rehabilitated.
During a blessing ceremony on Thursday, the centre was revealed to be more than a place to learn more about their culture.
“The spiritual component and the spiritual healing is an important component of rehabilitation,” Corrections and Policing Minister Christine Tell said. “It provides them an avenue to rehabilitate and reintegrate back into their communities.
“That’s the ultimate goal and as government it is our concern that we provide the best we can to hopefully reintegrate inmates back into the community so they don’t (come back to jail) and live their lives in a healthy, responsible, respectful way,” she added. “The cultural component is a spiritual component. People, the inmates, require this element to be addressed as part of the rehabilitation process.”
Before the new centre was created, Tell said the facility did have a place to do cultural activities but it was “not adequate.”
She witnessed the previous building when she came to visit Pine Grove’s cultural co-ordinator, Joyce Letendre.
“About a year and a half prior to that, Minister Tell came to visit me here at Pine Grove and I showed her our lack of everything and she dedicated this building for cultural services at Pinegrove,” Letendre said.
Not only was there a lack of proper heating and cooling in the building, it was also visible to the public who may be driving by Pine Grove, which didn’t give the women any privacy for cultural programming and sweat lodges.
The new facility is a refurbished building that used to be used as living quarters.
“This way, it is in an appropriate place on the property at Pine Grove and it is an appropriate facility,” Tell said. “It is not elaborate. This is not about it being fancy. It is comfortable and it is suitable for our winters, it is suitable for our summers and it is a suitable place to give them the privacy that they need.”
Although an opening celebration was held Thursday, Letendre said they moved into the building last November.
“I’ve been the cultural co-ordinator for 10 years and up until last November, we had no space to do work with the women,” she said. “I am so grateful and so relieved that we have all this support from our ministry to do this work. It shows that they actually understand what we are trying to do here and the difference that we do make in the lives of the women that we serve.”
Letendre and some elders jumped to work when the building was ready, setting up a teepee, sweat lodge, sage picking and cleaning and other things they were unable to do before.
“We made the best use of the space as we can,” she said. “Before, it made it difficult to do because I would have to borrow space from the teachers, the chaplain -- everybody.
“Now we can just do what we need to do,” she added. “We have had all of the women come through and really appreciate what we have now.”
Tell said it is only right for the women in Pine Grove to get the same types of facilities as inmates in other correctional centres across the province.
“It allows them to sit appropriately and conduct the sweats and pipe ceremonies and the other one didn’t,” she said. “The other facility didn’t allow that in an appropriate way and it is an important element and it was missing here -- not totally missing but missing to its capacity.”
The facility is also a more welcoming atmosphere for the inmates.
“They get away from the bars, grills, they get to sit in the teepee, they get to sit in the office, they get to come here and smudge and pray and ask for the things they need,” Letendre said.
Getting the opportunity to participate in cultural activities helps rehabilitate the women.
“They are going to go back into their communities and the spiritual and cultural component for First Nations and others is important,” Tell said. “We all realize the First Nations component of our correctional centres is important.
“We have to address this issue and one way specifically to help with that is to provide a structure or the infrastructure so they can practice their spirituality and it is important that we do that.”
Letendre said they help the women heal their identities, their history, help them reconcile the things they have done wrong in society, introduce cultural ceremonies to them and help them rediscover their spirituality.
“They are different after they work with us and the elders, they are different,” she said. “They become more hopeful about what the future brings.”