Course facilitator Jordan Francis (centre) discusses a few of the items he brought in for the course with participants Ryan Yates, Valerie Dolhanty, and Scott MacIsaac (left to right).
Nova Scotia Correctional Services staff across the province are learning about what it means to be Mi'kmaq.
In 2015, the Department of Justice introduced a new course, L'nu-way or the Aboriginal Way, for all 360 Correctional Services staff members working in correctional facilities and in community corrections right across Nova Scotia.
The course has been designed to help staff develop a greater understanding about Aboriginal and Mi'kmaq culture and to better appreciate the history, and societal issues facing indigenous people. It was developed and led by a mostly Aboriginal team at correctional services and every course features at least one Aboriginal facilitator. This allows facilitators to share first-hand their experiences and stories as Aboriginal Canadians with attendees—helping to connect what is learned in the course with real-world situations.
The course focuses on historical and cultural perspectives of the individuals they work with and to also improve relationships with them through shared knowledge and understanding.
"The course has definitely changed my knowledge of Mi'Kmaq culture; it is much deeper now," said Valerie Dolhanty, a Senior Probation Officer for Nova Scotia Correctional Services, who attended a training session in Eskasoni last month.
For her, the session was invaluable and well-received by her colleagues. Working within the communities of Eskasoni and Membertou, she went into the session excited and curious about expanding her knowledge.
Valerie has only one-word for what the training brings: "Enlightenment."
The training sessions begin with participants filling out a questionnaire to see how much they already know about Aboriginal and Mi'Kmaq culture. This tool will be important as the session moves forward because it give participants a clear example of how much they learned over the two-day session.
The topics covered include: smudging ceremonies, history and timelines, spirituality and organized religion, education, governance, justice and corrections.
For some, this isn't their first time learning more about some of the people they work with.
Scott MacIsaac, an acting Captain with the Northeast Nova Scotia Correctional Facility, said that he had taken a course in the past that was eye-opening, but finds the L'nu-way course is more in-depth
"It is appalling to realize that the Mi'Kmaq people have lived here for hundreds of years and only became citizens 60 years ago and only 56 years ago were allowed to vote," said Scott. "It is really sad to see that take place."
"The course really opens your eyes to the struggles that they went through. I would recommend this course whole-heartedly. I wouldn't just recommend it to corrections but anyone in general"
One of the things that surprised him the most was the complexity and the importance of sweats and smudging. He found it so interesting that he looks forward to participating in a sweat in the future.
"This course isn't just about Aboriginal and Mi'kmaq offenders, it is much more than that," said Michael Sampson, the Manager of Training and Development with the Department of Justice. "It is about trying to go from ignorance to understanding and building respectful relationships with Mi'kmaq and Aboriginal Canadians."
Jordan Andrew Francis, one of the co-facilitators of the Cape Breton course and the Aboriginal Liaison Officer for the Cape Breton Correctional Facility, is happy to be a part of the course. He is pleased to helping others understand more about his culture. For Jordan, bringing people together is a central theme for the course.
Jordan says that he has had lots of compliments about the course. He has seen the benefits firsthand. He has witnessed how the course makes staff feel more comfortable with Mi'kmaq colleagues and offenders because their understanding of their culture has increased. He has also seen the impact it has had on offenders, which he believes help offenders become more receptive to corrections officers.
"Inside of me has been crying because I have seen so much. I have seen a lot of misunderstanding, ignorance, and innocent insults happen," says Jordan. "Inside of me is not crying anymore because now we are talking about it."