By Thia James

Joyce Letendre sits peacefully in a tee pee that’s part of the changes made to the Pine Grove Correctional Centre’s cultural centre.

Letendre is the cultural co-ordinator at Pine Grove Correctional Centre in Prince Albert for the past decade and says that up until last November, she had no space to work with the inmates.

The jail operated a cultural centre that had poor heating and air conditioning and was close to a roadway, which did not offer the inmates much in the way of privacy.

But after the province built new living quarters to house inmates, one of the buildings on site became vacant.

Less than $20,000 for renovations later, it is now Pine Grove’s new cultural centre.

The new centre is more welcoming, Letendre said.

“They get away from the bars, the grills, they get to sit in the teepee, they get to sit in an office, they get to come here and smudge and pray, ask for the things they need.”

The province’s only all-female correctional facility officially opened the new cultural centre with a blessing ceremony on Aug. 14, but they have been able to use it since last November. It aims to help First Nations and Metis inmates.

They can take part in sharing circles, cultural awareness programs, a sweat lodge and pipe ceremonies.

Minister of Corrections and Policing Christine Tell called spiritual healing an important part of the inmates’ rehabilitation.  She said the First Nations component of provincial corrections is important.

“We have to address this issue and one way to specifically help with that is to provide … the infrastructure, so that they can practice their spirituality.”
But it’s also a means to help the inmates heal their identities and pasts, as well as come to terms with their past wrongs, Letendre said.

“After they work with us and the elders, they’re different. They become more hopeful about what the future brings.”

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