Actions and Commitments

Call to Action # 31: Justice (25-42)

Court-ordered community hours go towards healing in Indigenous-led justice efforts in Montreal

January 19, 2023

Mohawk-Cree teepee space helping give Indigenous ex-detainees culture and healing

A moose hunt as a way to carry out court-ordered community hours. Some support workers with Native Para-Judicial Services of Quebec (NPJSQ) hope to offer a more culturally rooted way for Indigenous people involved with the justice system to carry out their community hours. (submitted by Bobby Patton)

CBC News: Indigenous people involved with the justice system in the Montreal area — whether they spend time in jail or not — may increasingly be able to carry out court-ordered community service hours doing cultural and healing activities instead of labour. 

Last fall, two Indigenous men were able to fulfil their community hours by going on a moose hunt and learning how to butcher and prepare the meat in Kahnawake, Que., with the help of elders and Indigenous justice support workers. 

“Right now in Quebec, there’s no followup, no aftercare to guide the person … making sure he’s getting the care that he needs, like treatment, anger management … to make sure he’s on track so he doesn’t re-offend,” said Bobby Patton, who is a Mohawk support worker with Native Para-Judicial Services of Quebec (NPJSQ).

“People look at community hours as … ‘Oh I’ve got free labour. There’s [someone] coming in and he’s going to do work and it’s free,'” said Patton. “They really don’t heal from it. People look down on them.” he said, adding that so far, four people have done their community hours in this more cultural setting. 

Mohawk support worker Bobby Patton talks about how a Mohawk-Cree Teepee near Montreal is being used to help people involved with the justice system carry out community hours.

Patton and some of his colleagues hope to expand and offer Gladue report aftercare to Indigenous people with community hours to carry out in the Montreal region, something that doesn’t exist now.

Gladue reports delve into an Indigenous person’s history, their family’s history and their community’s history in order to describe their circumstances to the courts. They help the court take the individual’s unique circumstances and challenges into consideration for sentencing, including the family’s history with residential schools and child welfare systems.

Being able to offer this as an option to even more people is thanks to something called the Mohawk-Cree Teepee project. 

A group of Indigenous women cook traditional food, including goose, moose and bannock over an open fire in a hard walled teepee in Kahnawake, Que.
Some Indigenous women help prepare a traditional meal in Kahnawake, Que. (submitted by Bobby Patton)

In December, a feast was held to dedicate two permanent, wheelchair accessible teepees which have been built on Patton family land in Kahnawake. The Mohawk-Cree Teepee project is being jointly funded by Kahnawake Shakotiia’takehnhas Community Services (KSCS) and the Cree communities of Mistissini and Waswanipi.

The teepee space began as a place for Cree patients to gather and have traditional cookouts when they are sent south to receive medical care that is not available in the territory. Patton says he’s excited to also be able to use it to help others as well.

Kaia’tanó:ron Mayo is a native support worker at Bordeaux. She says nothing but good can come from expanding this program.   “We know the justice system doesn’t work,” said Mayo. 

“Punishment doesn’t work. There’s no learning. There’s no healing,” says Kaia’tanó:ron Mayo, a native support worker at Bordeaux provincial prison.

“Punishment doesn’t work. There’s no learning. There’s no healing. Most of our clients have had a lifetime of systemic injustice and trauma. Continuing that process doesn’t give them any chance of rehabilitation,” she said. 

Patton said this is a much more helpful and healing approach to doing community hours than is usually the case in Quebec. “We want the person to understand they are valued and that there is still a way you can reintegrate into the community where you are going to be accepted,” said Patton.

A Cree elder and a young girl stand outside in the fall at the end of a row of tables filled with traditional food.
Cree elder Elizabeth R. Brien (front left) at a feast after a moose hunt in Kahnawake, Que. She is one of the Indigenous elders working with support workers within the justice system to offer Indigenous ex-detainees a better way to carry out community hours.  (submitted by Bobby Patton)

“You’re going to learn the traditional teachings … learn about your culture in a healing manner,” said Patton, adding the two men who did their community hours through a moose hunt had a good experience. “We showed them how the harvesting was done. From harvesting [the moose], to butchering it and then giving the meat to community members,” said Patton.

Patton says the potential of the new permanent structures at the Mohawk-Cree Teepee is limitless. He hopes to see it become a hub of knowledge transfer from elders, cross-cultural sharing between all nations and healing from addictions and colonial violence. 


Susan Bell

Susan Bell has worked with CBC News since 1997 as a journalist, writer-broadcaster, radio host and producer. She has been with CBC North since 2009, most recently as a digital producer with the Cree unit in Montreal.