Re: CRD supports call for public inquiry into release of prolific offenders in the Williams Lake Tribune (Feb 17, 2021).
Systemic racism isn’t always obvious to those that are not experiencing it – in actual fact, it can be quite hard to see. Indigenous groups in the Cariboo Chilcotin, like the Tsilhqot’in Nation, experience it on a regular basis. Most recently it was through Tsilhqot’in citizens being refused entry into businesses due to COVID-19 outbreaks in our communities. However, from a historical perspective, it was colonists seeking to build a road through our territory without our agreement during the gold rush, threatening to spread smallpox among our people and pillaging where they could.
Today, in the Cariboo-Chilcotin, our municipal and regional councils lack diversity and awareness of not only the impacts of historical trauma that Indigenous peoples have faced in the region, but also how their decisions and policies further marginalize us from our land and families. A policy that increases incarceration time for prolific offenders is a Band-Aid solution that simply drives these, largely Indigenous, youth deeper into a life of crime. At some point, you have to say that this approach doesn’t work.
The Tsilhqot’in Nation has been advocating for years for increased wrap-around services that support families, offer culturally grounded alternatives, and see those that are committing crimes not as a burden – but as a call to action to provide much-needed support.
Williams Lake needs to focus on social development programs for youth. Evening programs for youth at risk in sports and recreation along with arts and culture should be happening weekly. Sports facilities and fields sit empty while the City of Williams Lake calls for an inquiry into the release of prolific offenders. Local politicians need to spend more time thinking about how to keep Indigenous youth out of jail rather than focusing on how to keep them in there longer.
Creating change does not mean being tougher on current practices – it means finding, and being open to, alternative solutions. These solutions come from having a diversity of views at the policy development level and recognizing when to walk away from failing practices.
Nits’il?in (Chief) Joe Alphonse
Tribal Chairman, Tsilhqot’in National Government
Chief of Tl’etinqox (Anaham)