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Claire Carefoot is the executive director of the Buffalo Sage Wellness House. She defends both the safety and effectiveness of Canada’s nine Indigenous healing lodges. (CBC News) The head of a women’s healing lodge in Edmonton is defending both the safety and effectiveness of Canada’s nine Indigenous healing lodges, in the wake of outrage over the relocation of convicted murderer Terri-Lynne McClintic to a healing lodge in Saskatchewan.

"It’s not a get-out-of-jail-free pass to come here," said Claire Carefoot, executive director of the Buffalo Sage Wellness House, a 28-bed urban facility that houses minimum-security inmates who have committed crimes ranging from murder to armed robbery.

"We have the same kind of supervision and restrictions they have in a prison. Only we’re doing it in a healing way."

McClintic is serving a life sentence for the gruesome murder of eight-year-old Tori Stafford in 2009. She was transferred from an Ontario medium-security prison to the Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge, which is designed to rehabilitate offenders and has no fences. Buffalo Sage Wellness House in Edmonton was opened in 2011. Artwork done by inmates hangs on the walls. (CBC News) News of McClintic’s relocation to Okimaw Ohci has prompted widespread outrage, from the leader of the Conservative Party who called the transfer "reprehensible," to Stafford’s father, who described his daughter’s killer as a "dangerous predator" in an open letter to the prime minister.

The federal government has ordered a review of McClintic’s relocation.

Carefoot would not comment specifically on the McClintic case, but says there are rigorous layers of review by corrections officials to assess an offender’s risk to public safety, before a decision to move him or her to a healing lodge.

"We’re very, very careful who we bring here … so that we know there is no safety issue when they come," said Carefoot.

"If there was any doubt at all that they would commit violence towards children or anyone in the community, they would not be here." The healing way

Buffalo Sage Wellness House opened in 2011, one of nine Indigenous healing lodges introduced in an attempt to address high rates of Indigenous incarceration.

Beginning at the front doors of Buffalo Sage, it’s not a typical prison. Artwork done by inmates hangs on the walls: photographs, painted masks, dream-catchers and sewn blankets. And officials call them "residents," not "inmates."

"We believe in healing. We believe in ceremony and elders’ teachings and programming to address trauma," said Carefoot, who estimates 97 per cent of women at Buffalo Sage have been abused. It opens up the women up, like peeling an onion. When you pull back the layers of all this hurt and anger, you get to the true healing of a woman "We believe that is the best way to protect the community when these women are released."

A Cree elder lives at the facility during the week to provide spiritual guidance, and women participate in ceremonies at sweat lodges, powwows and sun-dances. Other healing sessions, such as the eight-week Warrior Program, aim to teach offenders about historical trauma and how it has affected their lives as Indigenous people.

"It opens up the women up, like peeling an onion. When you pull back the layers of all this hurt and anger, you get to the true healing of a woman," Clarefoot said.

In McClintic’s case, it’s not clear whether she has Indigenous ancestry. Carefoot said it’s rare for healing lodges to accept non-Indigenous offenders, but it can happen, so long as they’re prepared to "follow the culture and ceremonies."

Healing lodges aim to get at the roots of offender’s learned behaviours, said Carefoot, which is often more difficult for women than punitive […]

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