Garden River First Nation has officially launched Gweyek Ji-Bimoseng (walking the straight road), a restorative justice program that aims to provide a culturally-based diversion process for Indigenous offenders in the criminal justice system.
Memorandums of understanding with Anishinabek Police Service, John Howard Society of Sault Ste. Marie and District, Sault Ste. Marie Indigenous Friendship Centre and the local Crown Attorney’s Office were signed as part of the announcement, which took place at the Garden River Community Centre Wednesday.
The alternative approach to justice is intended to address an overrepresentation of Indigenous people involved in the criminal justice system while supporting the long-term healing of the community and reaffirming Garden River First Nation sovereignty.
“I’m very appreciative of our partners,” said Garden River First Nation Chief Andy Rickard during his opening remarks. “I think we’ve been having some good discussions and dialogues about reclaiming our responsibility back here in our community of helping our people in terms of the ones that go through that justice program.”
The referral program will see offenders diverted from the mainstream justice system to Gweyek Ji-Bimoseng in order to address underlying behaviours and support rehabilitation through a series of programs, said Rickard, with the goal of “helping them get out with culture, tradition and any means necessary to get back to their roots.”
“It’s important that when people leave the remand centre or the jails, that they transition and integrate back into the community, so it’s looking at the services and supports we have in the community to make that transition, because we don’t want them to fall back into that cycle,” Rickard said.
The first restorative justice circle will take place next week, said Garden River First Nation Justice Worker Molli Zack.
“I’m excited for the people that we’re going to be helping,” Zack told SooToday following the launch. “There’s a lot of people who are lost in the system, so we’ll be able to help them get out.”