The CBC reports that the Manitoba Department of Justice has told incarcerated Indigenous women that they are no longer allowed to sell beadwork. In Canada, Indigenous women are twelve times more likely to be incarcerated than non-Indigenous women. In the prairies, they make up more than 50% of the female prison population. In 2018, the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women published a study on Indigenous women in federal prisons, which called for more cultural programming in prison that considers Indigenous women’s cultural and economic situations, to support their “ability to heal and rehabilitate.” For many Indigenous women, access to their culture “is the only “way to ground themselves and stay connected physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.” Said one witness in the report, “We have to stop thinking about [Indigenous women in prison] as bundles of risk or as behaviours to manage” — which feels like a good characterization of the justice minister’s rationale for eliminating the program: “it was causing concerns and security issues.”
While the DoJ decision demonstrates the reckless cruelty of the prison system, Mi’kmaw lawyer Pam Palmater has argued that reforms like the ones in the House of Commons report aren’t enough. “The overincarceration of Indigenous peoples in federal, provincial and territorial prisons in Canada today is nothing short of genocide… We must confront racism against Indigenous peoples head on and prevent incarceration in the first place.” We have to question a system that puts entire populations at at the mercy of negligent, reckless legislators.