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Prisons are the new residential schools

July 20th, 2008     by Jessica Yee     Comments

This is something I’ve been saying quite a lot lately with the recent Harper apology for residential schools. Sure, government regulated residential schools might have closed, but they’ve been replaced with the systematic apprehension of our people forced to become prisoners yet again for reacting to centuries of abuse.

As part of their eight-part series on Crime and Punishment, this Sunday’s Toronto Star had a full front-page spread on Prisons Poisoning Natives.

Just to review the statistics:

3.8% of the Canadian population is Aboriginal

We make up almost 20% of the prison population

33% of our youth are currently incarcerated

I recently took part in a county jail and state prison panel in the United States where, for some reason, when we were discussing “minority” representation, no one knew that Native American youth are incarcerated 2.5 times more than White youth (some studies show as many as 40% of our youth are ending up in jail).

How much more can we handle? We’re still reeling from 500 years of colonization, and people expect that we should have bucked up and solved it all ourselves in the last 50 (not to mention the fact that colonization is still ongoing, you can look at the abhorrent resource extraction going on in Inuit territory for that).

We need our culture back, and we need our youth back. They are our future and if we don’t have them, then we’ve lost the most sacred part of who we are as a people. (Oh but they’ll try and take it away from us every chance they get, as proven by the recent removal of tobacco, one of the most important rituals to many Native cultures, in prisons).

Watch this inspiring video by the Red Tail Lodge youth prison in Chino, California to see how young people are changing these statistics, using the power of our our culture, for the next generation.

Tags: race and racism

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