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Inmates, who are called residents at the Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge, are encouraged to use Indigenous programming and spirituality to address the underlying issues that have brought them to the facility operated by Corrections Canada. (Corrections Canada) Nestled among the rolling hills of southwestern Saskatchewan, several wooden cabins surrounded by autumn barren trees make up what is known as the Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge.

It may sound like a wilderness retreat, but this is a federal penitentiary.

It’s operated by the Corrections Canada to house incarcerated women, including 28-year-old Terri-Lynne McClintic — the convicted killer of eight-year-old Tori Stafford, whose death and disappearance captured national attention after police scoured the southwestern Ontario countryside for months in one of the largest-ever searches for a missing person in Canada.

McClintic’s transfer from an Ontario medium-security prison to Okimaw Ohci not even halfway through her life sentence has sparked national outrage, but advocates for the healing lodge are defending its effectiveness to rehabilitate offenders.

"To put people behind bars is really kind of revengeful," said Mary Sanderson, a former art therapist who volunteered at Okimaw Ohci between 2007 and 2012.

"The healing lodge believes that there is something that can be drawn out of those women, who mainly have been abused and come from lives of terrible violence."

Critics are furious.

"It boggles the mind," said John Muise, a former member of the Parole Board of Canada and a volunteer director for Abuse Hurts, an organization working to stop child exploitation. "I’ve been to a healing lodge in Alberta, it’s a very comfortable place in comparison to a typical maximum or medium security institution.

"Are there no other offenders that could benefit from one of these few beds that exist for healing and reintegration?" What is the Okimaw Ohchi Healing Lodge

The Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge is located on the Nekaneet First Nation about 30 kilometres southeast from the closest city of Maple Creek, Sask.

Members of the Nekaneet First Nation have expressed anger that a child-killer is living on their territory and they had no say in the matter.

It opened in 1995 and is the oldest of nine Indigenous healing lodges across the country introduced in an attempt to address high rates of Indigenous incarceration.

Okimaw Ohci has minimum to medium security operations. The inmates are not behind bars. In fact, they’re not even called inmates. They’re known as residents of the lodge.

The purpose of the lodge is to address the underlying issues that have brought the women here so they can make a successful transition back into the community. The Lodge is located in southwestern Saskatchewan on the Nekaneet First Nation approximately 30 kilometres from the closest city. (Corrections Canada) For example, Sanderson worked to help lodge inmates express themselves using pastels, paint and clay.

Sometimes, she said she would draw the outline of a man and ask the women to throw clay at it.

"It allowed them to begin to deal with the strong, repressed emotions," Sanderson said."One of the great things that happened in the groups was as they heard about what somebody else had done, maybe the same crime as them, they began to think, well, maybe there’s hope for me." Who is there Inmates in other facilities have three ways of getting into Okimaw Ohci. They can apply for relocation, Corrections Canada can suggest a residency, or sometimes inmates are placed at the lodge once they’ve completed their sentence.There are currently 50 women staying at the 60-bed facility and there are 89 staff members, according to Corrections Canada. There are guards, but they almost never carry guns.It costs approximately $167,000 to house an offender at Okimaw Ohci. The […]

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