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Indigenous Learnings: The Medicine Wheel

October 1, 2019

Indigenous women are dramatically over-represented within Canada’s criminal justice system and there is little public awareness on the complex and dynamic factors underlying their criminalization. The teachings of the Medicine Wheel have been used by Indigenous people for centuries as a guiding tool for learning and healing. The four directions of the Medicine Wheel represent an individual’s mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Contained within the wheel, the circle symbolises how health is holistic and cyclical, with each factor influencing one another.

The Medicine Wheel as a holistic health model recognizes the unique circumstances that incarcerated women face and the interconnectedness of these detriments as they impact successful reintegration back into society. Engagement with the Medicine Wheel teachings also encourages women to reconnect with their culture and contributes to their understanding of themselves.

The process of the Medicine Wheel begins as a collaborative conversation where individuals assess the four components of their wellbeing by rating their level of achievement on a scale from 5 to 1, ranging from “Struggling, Ready to Learn, Learning, Practicing to Achieving.” Individuals strive to reach the inner part of the wheel in each quadrant to achieve an ideal level of success. In addition, achieving balance in all four areas of the Medicine Wheel contributes to personal balance in all areas of one’s life. Balance is an ongoing process through life.

The Medicine Wheel breaks down the emotional, physical, mental and spiritual domains by asking individuals to evaluate the strength of their personal relationships, their ability to cope with past trauma, the stability of their living situation, their ability to follow-through with appointments and health check-ups, and their sense of purpose and confidence and connection to their culture, etc.

The use of the Medicine Wheel supports women in identifying the key areas where they want to put a focus on toward healing. EFry Case Managers assist each woman in developing a comprehensive individualized plan that facilitates their personal healing and provides an approach to providing resources and programs.

The Medicine Wheel serves as a cycle of awareness that provides women with direction and knowledge through their recovery. It encourages women to be self-reliant in their self-healing journey as personal experience is central to the goals and objectives that women will set for themselves. As a circular symbol, the Medicine Wheel seeks to break cycles of violence and abuse by tackling each domain of holistic health in order to achieve balance.

Pathways to Healing: PCOP

The Elizabeth Fry Society (EFry) has many programs to help people involved with the legal system who want to have a better future. One of these programs is the Prison Community Outreach Program, also known as PCOP. The program works to support women, during and after incarceration, to work towards their goals to empower personal change. While working on these individual goals, EFry keeps a larger goal in mind, which is to help the women break the cycle of recidivism. Many women experience criminalization as a direct result of poverty and trauma; therefore, many of the programs that support the PCOP team are focused on addressing the core issues that led to being charged.

The case managers that work directly with the clients have noticed many positive effects on the clients. They have found that by engaging in services, the women find structure and guidance, as well as a listening ear, while incarcerated. In the long term, women gain independence through gaining stability, returning to employment and addressing their core issues that led to their criminalization. The program assists women in finding housing or housing programs to reduce the chances of them returning into homelessness. Having a stable residence reduces the chances of women returning into old lifestyles.

EFry relies on the generous contributions of donations to assist women to re-establish themselves in the community. The majority of donations go directly to supporting housing, and other basic needs for women and their families.

“It’s rewarding to see someone previously street and drug enmeshed make changes that stick.” – PCOP Case Manager

Message from the Executive Director

The summer months at EFry were exciting as we started off the season with our Annual General Meeting with Elder John Chief Moon Sr. providing ceremony. EFry provided an oral report of our services and supports back to the community.

Throughout the Spring we completed the development of the Sohksipaitapiisin Indigenous Justice Program and Community Case Management Table graciously funded by Family and Community Support Services to assist Indigenous peoples who are involved in the justice system. The Case Management Table has been linked up with Calgary’s Indigenous Court which formerly opened on September 4, 2019. On September 24, 2019, a formal naming ceremony was conducted by Elder Clarence Wolf Leg Sr.

In collaboration with Miskanawah, August celebrated a week long language cultural camp in the Kananaskis with families and singles supporting the teachings from both the Cree language from Miskanawah and Blackfoot language from EFry’s language instructor Monica Chief Moon.

Several funding initiatives occurred in the summer months including our connection to the Shaw Charity Classic Birdies for Kids where the EFry Board of Directors worked towards bringing awareness and donations into the organization through their individual and collective efforts including wine and trivia nights.  In addition, we conducted an online auction to finalize the efforts of this initative. We exceeded our goal with these efforts.

Benevity of Calgary selected EFry as one of 6 organizations for the Rock the Causebah charity event in June, this support assisted us with sponsored donations and further awareness of our organization.

As we close the summer, we do so in recognition of the National Orange Shirt Day on September 30, 2019. This day honours those that attended Indian Residential Schools and builds awareness around this important history throughout Canada.


Breaking Barriers: Transportation

Public transit is often a lifeline for low-income Calgarians. As an integral part of daily life, equitable access to transit provides opportunities for better jobs, education and maintains connections with the community. Public transportation is often the only mode of affordable transportation; as many low-income individuals do not have access to a vehicle or public car services, such as Uber and Car2Go. Without access to transportation, individuals are isolated and unable to respond to appointments, community events, or spend time with family and friends. The absence of an affordable and consistent transit system means the city’s most vulnerable populations suffer, weakening the whole community.

For many people living below the poverty line, students and newcomers to Canada, the fare for the city’s public transit is already difficult to afford. In 2017, the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary conducted a study in collaboration with Athabasca University and the Calgary Justice Sector Constellation exploring the impact of Calgary’s bylaw enforcement practices on marginalized populations. The study showed that transit fines from unpaid fares comprised roughly 65% of fines that respondents had most recently. Low-income riders often choose to engage in a cost-benefit analysis–weighing the cost of purchasing a fare or monthly pass against the $250 ticket for transit fare evasion. One of the primary purposes of bylaw enforcement is to discourage behaviour through deterrence, but 37.9% of respondents indicated that they would not be deterred from committing similar acts in the future because their life circumstances made it difficult to do so. As opposed to focusing on the root causes of poverty, bylaw fines target behaviour that results from these social inequities. Therefore, affordable access to transit services is one tool to prevent further discrimination against Calgary’s vulnerable populations.

Two successful initiatives were implemented to support the decriminalization of bylaw fare tickets and their impact on low-income Albertans. The City of Calgary introduced a low-income monthly-pass system with a sliding scale for cost of fare. The goal of this pilot project is to support the decriminalization of fare evasion by making fares affordable to all.

Secondly, on May 1, 2017, the province of Alberta implemented Bill 9, an Act to Modernize Enforcement of Provincial Offences, which stops the use of arrest warrants for minor provincial and municipal infractions. Under the former system, people could potentially find themselves with an arrest warrant for failure to pay a fine. Even if this would not lead to their criminalization or incarceration, the time spent in arrest processing to deal with an outstanding bylaw matter could affect their employment.

In April 2017, the City of Calgary began offering Low-Income Transit Passes on a sliding-scale. Passes are available to those of low-income after an assessment of income is conducted and offers a 50% discount on monthly passes at minimum to as low as $5.25 for those on assistance or disability. By 2018, over 425 000 low-income passes were purchased, with over 60% sold to households earning less than 50 per cent of the Low-Income Cut-Off ($25 338 when providing for oneself and up to $67 706 if providing for 7 people). In a study conducted by Fair Calgary Community Voices in 2018, hundreds of Calgarians stated that their lives and communities have been changed by the affordable fare system. They cited increased access to jobs and opportunities, improved health and wellbeing, increased access to education, increased financial resiliency and increased access to community and friends as just a few of the benefits.

In July 2019, Calgary City Council voted in favour of cutting $60 million from the rest of this year’s operating budget, with $6.9 million cut from public transit and a further $2.4 million from specialized transit services, totalling $9.3 million. While Low-Income Transit Passes managed to survive the budget cuts, there will be 80,000 fewer Calgary Transit service hours, which means reduced frequency of busses and CTrains. For those that solely rely on public transit, there are already a number of hurdles that they must overcome daily. For many, bus routes only frequent their area once an hour and their travel time can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour-and-a-half. Thus, they may need to show up to their work an hour early, resulting in hours of lost time throughout their day.

We encourage the provincial government to continue their research into the efficacy of bylaw enforcement and commend the City of Calgary for retaining Low-Income Monthly Passes. The recent changes in hours do have an impact on the accessibility for those low-income Calgarians who rely heavily on public transportation. As these cuts in service are reviewed for efficiency, there is hope that the areas that may be affected most negatively will be reviewed for adaptations. As Calgarians, we have a duty to support those of our community who are impacted by poverty, by ensuring that options to decrease the potential of criminalization are supported as mobility as we know is the key to a well-functioning community.

Employee Profile: Brock Haug

Brock Haug, thirty-three, has been with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary since September 2018 as a Case Manager for the Prison Community Outreach Program. His hobbies include DJ’ing, weightlifting, swimming, hiking and travelling. He has been to Ibiza, China and has an upcoming trip planned to Mexico. Perhaps it is this love of new experiences that led Brock to work for EFry. One of the primary reasons he enjoys working for the organization is because every day is a fresh day where no two days are ever the same. In addition, seeing the positive changes made in the lives of so many different women and youth furthers his dedication to his work. In the past, Brock ran a day program for adults with brain injuries, worked in community corrections, a federal hallway home and volunteered with the parole office. These past experiences resulted in Brock taking a position with EFry last year.

Brock’s work as a Case Manager involves working directly with the women of EFry at the Calgary Remand Centre. He also attends the Lethbridge Correctional Centre for provincially incarcerated women and provides support to women in the community after their release. His role is to provide solutions and resources that address core issues, such as housing, addiction and mental health. The support he provides is important, not only to the women, but also to Brock.

An example of Brock’s compassionate involvement with his clients is when he worked with a woman who could not read without the proper prescription for her glasses. In turn, Brock helper her obtain a new pair of glasses and the woman was able to read properly for the first time since her incarceration. Brock’s involvement with EFry has also taught him how to work effectively within an Indigenous framework. He has learned a lot about the pathways and processes that can be used as an important part of the journey to healing for someone involved with the justice system. He has also found inspiration in seeing people change their lives by committing to making a better future for themselves.

On a final note, Brock suggested to those considering working or volunteering with the Elizabeth Fry Society that they should, “Keep an open mind, every day is a learning experience.” As for the community of Calgary and potential donors, he mentioned, “This is the only organization in Calgary that provides the services we provide. We strive to see our women through difficult times that influence individual progress and everyone here is completely committed to the cause.”