An Understanding of the Use of Aboriginal Healing Practices in the Counselling of Young Offenders in Canadian Custody Facilities
This study investigated four research questions: (1) How are institutional programs for young offenders guided by recommendations made by Justice Review Committees who call for the inclusion of Traditional healing practices in the counselling of Aboriginal offenders? (2) How and to what extent are Traditional healing practices in a counselling program and Native Studies in the academic program implemented within Canadian young offender institutions in addressing the special needs of youth? (3) What are the "special needs" of youth as incarcerated youth define their needs and how are they addressed in institutional programming? and (4) What are the problems and successes experienced within a Traditional healing program in each young offenders' system as defined by the resource people and / or co-ordinators who provide these programs and as they interface with the individual bureaucratic systems? In keeping with the concept that all parts of the "tree" must be examined, this research was conducted in four phases. The first phase, the survey, was an examination of the Canadian perspective. A survey was sent to 43 facilities for young offenders in Canada. Sixty five percent of the institutions responded providing program information and anecdotal accounts of problems and successes of Traditional healing programs within the custody facilities. Phase two of the research included poetry and artwork written by incarcerated youth and compiled over a five year period. This book was entitled The Ways of Life and is included with this research. A committee of incarcerated youth discussed their needs and the institutional programs which best addressed these needs. Interviews with two Native Program Co-ordinators, one in a western young offenders facility and the other in an eastern facility for young offenders, formed the basis of data in phase three of this research. Teachers in the area of Native Studies and related subjects were also involved in the interviews. The common themes and factors which emerged were: funding and budget concerns, staff attitudes and racism, security concerns and program structure, and, healing principles, partnership and program definition. The fourth phase of this investigation was a summary of aspects and insights from the youth's poetry and artwork, as well as, common themes experienced throughout the survey information and the interviews. Components involved in the design of a cultural program were summarized. These include: the arts, creative expression and Traditional teachings, classroom instruction, lifestyles intensive programs, opportunity for community, Traditional ceremonies, and nature and health care programs. In light of the fact, from the survey response, that 40% of the incarcerated youth in Canada are of Aboriginal ancestry in a backdrop of approximately 2% Aboriginal people within the general population of Canada, emphasis on Traditional healing practices and further recommendations for programming conclude this investigation. Further recommendations are made in order to provide reflection on the programs for incarcerated youth and the Young Offenders Act in Canada.