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

Just Posted

Child Development Centre marks 40 years of service

CDC now serves families throughout the territory

Triple J’s expands offerings with new skin care line

The products feature Canadian ingredients and environmentally-friendly packaging

Relatives of pedestrian struck in 2001 urge change after latest fatality at the intersection

‘I don’t know what the solution is, but I just think something needs to be done’

Whitehorse officials promise improvements to cycling routes

Commuters say more focus on the downtown is needed

WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World

Arctic Sports Inter-School Championship draws athletes from as far as Juneau

The three-day event included more than 300 participants from kindergarten to Grade 12

Access road to Telegraph Creek now open

Ministry has spent $300K to date on work to clear rockslide

Freedom Trails responds to lawsuit

A statement of defence was to the Yukon Supreme Court on Nov. 19.

Whitehorse RCMP seeking suspects after robbery at Yukon Inn

Robbery took place in early hours of Nov. 27, with suspects armed with a knife and “large stick”

Yukonomist: Your yogurt container’s dirty secret

You should still recycle, but recycling one might be giving you a false sense of environmental virtue

History Hunter: New book tells old story of nursing in the Yukon

Author Amy Wilson was a registered nurse in the Yukon from 1949 to 1951

Jack Hulland wins 2019 Yukon Elementary School Hockey Tournament

The one-day tournament featured nearly a dozen teams from Whitehorse, Dawson City and Teslin

City news, briefly

Some of the decisions that were made at the Nov. 25 Whitehorse city council meeting

Most Read