Darla Pratt, a First Nations elder and spiritual advisor who works at the Fraser Valley Institution for Women in Abbotsford, B.C., pictured at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre April 6. Pratt was in Whitehorse for the Council of Yukon First Nations two-day conference, “Exploring Justice: Our Way,” and spoke about the positive impact of having culturally-relevant programming for First Nations inmates at the FVI. (Jackie Hong/Yukon News)

At B.C. jail, First Nations programming transformational for inmates, says elder

Elder, spiritual advisor Darla Pratt spoke at the Council of Yukon First Nations’ justice conference

A strong focus on culturally-relevant First Nations programming at a British Columbia women’s jail has been transformational for Indigenous inmates, an elder and spiritual advisor told the Council of Yukon First Nations’ justice conference April 5.

Darla Pratt is a First Nations elder and spiritual advisor who works at the Fraser Valley Institution for Women (FVI) in Abbotsford, B.C., and was one of several speakers at CYFN’s “Exploring Justice: Our Way” conference. The programming available at FVI — daily access to on-site elders, cultural ceremonies like sweats and smudges and, for inmates who are doing well, chances to be taken out on the land — have been invaluable for First Nations inmates when it comes to rehabilitation and healing, Pratt explained.

“Women benefit from having a team, the security staff, especially, who are open and understand that the elders play an important role in the institution, so fostering a culture that is inclusive of the women’s needs, I can’t say enough about it,” she said.

“You can see the pride and you can see the healing taking place in these women when they have the opportunity.”

In her role as an elder and spiritual advisor, Pratt said she works with women housed at all security levels, with those in maximum security receiving constant outreach while those in minimum security are expected to reach out to her.

“(I help) bring them to an understanding that to be an Indigenous woman does not mean that you are without. It actually means that you have a rich and beautiful, historical culture and knowledge that you can tap into,” Pratt said.

“I can’t say to you how many times I have had a woman come into a room and say, ‘I don’t know what this is, I don’t want to be here!’ And she’s rough, rough, tough and really ready jut to rock the room, and they hear that drum — bang. And they hear the singing. And the next thing you know, they’re weeping and they don’t know why. They don’t know why. And so we start to take them back to the teachings of their grandmothers.”

Reconnecting with their cultural heritage can be transformational for inmates, Pratt said, grounding them in traditional values and teachings while also offering them a form of therapy, escape and release.

“The women go into the ceremonies and they don’t feel like they’re in prison anymore,” she said. “They feel like they’re home … it’s place where they can be themselves and they can have that release, shed tears that they need to shed, where they can speak about their crimes, about the abuses that were done to them, and they feel hurt when they’re with us.”

One of the biggest ceremonies happened on March 16, Pratt said, when the entire FVI was smudged. The initiative was led by the women, who had said building had negative energy that it needed to be gotten rid of, and they prepared all the medicines as well as the feast that followed. Several elders arrived the day of to lead the smudge.

“And every door in the institute was opened, every room was smudged,” Pratt said.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

IndigenousLaw & Justice

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

City of Whitehorse staff will report back to city council members in three months, detailing where efforts are with the city’s wildfire risk reduction strategy and action plan for 2021 to 2024. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Council adopts wildfire risk reduction plan

Staff will report on progress in three months

asdf
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for Nov. 25, 2020

Ivan, centre, and Tennette Dechkoff, right, stop to chat with a friend on Main Street in Whitehorse on Nov. 24. Starting Dec. 1 masks will be mandatory in public spaces across the Yukon in order to help curb the spread of COVID-19. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
UPDATED: Masks mandatory in public places starting on Dec. 1

“The safe six has just got a plus one,” Silver said.

Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, speaks at a press conference in Whitehorse on March 30. Hanley announced three more COVID-19 cases in a release on Nov. 21. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Three more COVID-19 cases, new exposure notice announced

The Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Brendan Hanley, announced three… Continue reading

Keith Lay speaks at a city council meeting on Dec. 4, 2017. Lay provided the lone submission to council on the city’s proposed $33 million capital spending plan for 2021 on Nov. 23, taking issue with a number of projects outlined. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Resident raises issues with city’s capital budget

Council to vote on budget in December

Beatrice Lorne was always remembered by gold rush veterans as the ‘Klondike Nightingale’. (Yukon Archives/Maggies Museum Collection)
History Hunter: Beatrice Lorne — The ‘Klondike Nightingale’

In June of 1929, 11 years after the end of the First… Continue reading

Samson Hartland is the executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines. The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during its annual general meeting held virtually on Nov. 17. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Yukon Chamber of Mines elects new board

The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during… Continue reading

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and — unsurprisingly — hospital visitations were down. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Annual report says COVID-19 had a large impact visitation numbers at Whitehorse General

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

City council was closed to public on March 23 due to gathering rules brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The council is now hoping there will be ways to improve access for residents to directly address council, even if it’s a virtual connection. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Solution sought to allow for more public presentations with council

Teleconference or video may provide opportunities, Roddick says

Megan Waterman, director of the Lastraw Ranch, is using remediated placer mine land in the Dawson area to raise local meat in a new initiative undertaken with the Yukon government’s agriculture branch. (Submitted)
Dawson-area farm using placer miner partnership to raise pigs on leased land

“Who in their right mind is going to do agriculture at a mining claim? But this made sense.”

Riverdale residents can learn more details of the City of Whitehorse’s plan to FireSmart a total of 24 hectares in the area of Chadburn Lake Road and south of the Hidden Lakes trail at a meeting on Nov. 26. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)
Meeting will focus on FireSmart plans

Riverdale residents will learn more details of the City of Whitehorse’s FireSmarting… Continue reading

Most Read