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The Manitoba government has announced that the First Nation Court Worker Program would be taken over by Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, Southern Chiefs' Organization (SCO), Manitoba Metis Federation, and the Island Lake Tribal Council.

SCO will have court workers in Dauphin, Portage la Prairie, and Selkirk, who will also attend circuit court locations, including those in Bloodvein, Berens River, and other court locations within SCO member Nations.

SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels says the work they'll be focused on making sure that those going before the court know everything that's happening.

"Our focus is really on the information about the local resources that are available within the court system, translation services, some of the legal terminology, to ensure that it's fully understood. That those who are coming before the courts understand their rights and responsibilities, and also we want to ensure that there's a lot of respect and empathy for the process, and how it impacts people."

He says the program will add value to their existing restorative justice program, and it will help make sure the system is working, and having a meaningful impact.

"It'll add value to the relationships that are very important when we talk about restorative justice. We have restorative justice in about seven of our communities. They have a relationship and a role with the judges, with the crown attorney, with the defense council, with the sheriff's offices. So they will also sort of work with the court workers in some capacity to strengthen that relationship."

Grand Chief Daniels says the program will hopefully change the status quo that has led to the over-representation of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system.

"The goal is right now, obviously First Nations are the highest represented demographic within the justice system, and we really want to help change that around and hopefully create opportunity for those that are leaving, and also those who are in conflict with the law. We're trying to find a way to keep them focused on their personal development and trying to help them deal with the lasting impacts of what they've experienced in their environment."

More information about SCO's Justice Program can be found on its website here.