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New Indigenous Justice Centres will empower First Nations, says Squamish Nation's Wilson Williams

The province is welcoming five new centres offering Indigenous-led legal assistance in Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo, Surrey and Kelowna
Squamish Nation’s Wilson Williams says the new Indigenous Justice Centres coming to B.C. offer “promise” and “hope.” | Paul McGrath / North Shore News file

Five new centres offering First Nations communities culturally safe, Indigenous-led legal support will soon open in Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo, Surrey and Kelowna.

The new centres will join the four existing Indigenous Justice Centres in Chilliwack, Prince Rupert, Prince George and Merritt, alongside a virtual centre that serves the entire province.

In an announcement held at the new Vancouver Justice Centre Thursday morning, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) elected council member Sxwíxwtn (Wilson Williams) acknowledged the effects the colonial justice system had on Indigenous communities, adding how the new centres offer “promise” and “hope” for the future.

“We stand here as a witness to a heartfelt story, a journey, an integration story, a challenge our indigenous people faced when faced with the justice system of colonialism. The foreign imposition that our people were not only new to, but were forced to adapt to a life they did not know,” he said.

“We turn the page to empowering our people in ways we’ve never done before.”

Each centre will offer services to Indigenous people facing criminal or child protection legal matters, alongside issues with housing, addiction, mental health and employment – although the specific services will vary with each centre depending on the local needs.

To make communities safer, the government must address the core issues that bring people into conflict with the law and their neighbours, said Premier David Eby on Thursday.

“A lifetime in and out of jail and back again doesn’t make anybody safer. We have to break that cycle,” he said.

“For Indigenous people in B.C., the solutions to break that cycle are most likely to be successful if they’re culturally grounded. I’m very grateful to the First Nations Justice Council for working with us to deliver safer communities and help change lives.”

Eby said Indigenous Justice Centres are a ”big step” towards building a brighter future for all.

“We can build safe communities, we can respect people’s dignity, and get them back on the right track, connect them with community and culture,” he said.

Williams said the province working in partnership with the First Nations Justice Council will help Indigenous communities continue to persevere, break barriers and create hope for the next generation.

“The urban indigenous community is rampant with challenges, but such beautiful people come from strong heritage, culture, traditions and families. This is the place that can be that strong pivotal centre to help our people move forward.”

Kory Wilson, chair of the BC First Nations Justice Council, said the five new centres will lead to “incredible changes” within the justice system within the lives of Indigenous people, which will make for “a safer, better province” for everyone in B.C.

“Together we can dismantle this legacy that has led to what we see today, the over representation of Indigenous people in the justice system … it is really only through these types of initiatives that we can work together to change these systems,” she said.

Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

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