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Indigenous Women's Justice Plan calls for major reform by province and feds

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The BC First Nations Justice Council has released a detailed plan for broad reforms it says will improve the lives of Indigenous women and girls.

BCFNJC said it held engagement across the province as it drafted the plan, hearing directly from Indigenous women about their lived experiences and their interactions with police, social workers, the courts and the criminal justice system.

The council released the final draft of its Indigenous Women’s Justice Plan at a forum in Vancouver on Monday.

Attendees heard that Indigenous women and girls in B.C. are far more likely to be victims of violence, including sexual violence, than non-Indigenous women, and are significantly over-represented in the foster care system and correctional facilities.

"It's unacceptable that Indigenous women and girls and (Two-Spirit)-plus people are on the negative end of all of these indicators. It's absolutely unacceptable,” said Kory Wilson, BCFNJC chair.

Among the many recommendations in the plan are calls for expanded cultural and trauma-focused programming for incarcerated Indigenous women.

"We know that the justice system is doing exactly what it was meant to do and that was to punish, to ostracize, to push down,” said Darla Rasmussen, who spoke at the forum. “But, we as Indigenous peoples know that doesn't work."

Addressing more than 500 people, Rasmussen opened up about her sister’s life in gangs, struggles with addiction and eventual suicide.

"When Rhonda took her life it was devastating, mostly because she left behind beautiful children. And the sadness of that is that my nieces are also a product of that,” Rasmussen said.

Despite living with significant emotional trauma from that experience and others, Rasmussen, who grew up in foster care, is optimistic justice reform will make a difference in the lives of Indigenous women.

The BCFNJC will now share its plan with the provincial and federal governments and would like to see them make significant changes to the child welfare system, corrections and policing.

"The reality is a lot of this also stems from racism. Systemic, institutionalized racism that has to be addressed in an honest way,” said Wilson.

She’s confident the changes the council is pushing for will allow the next generation of Indigenous girls to grow up in a brighter future filled with opportunity instead of trauma.

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