A meeting was held on March 27, 2023, at the Law Courts building between the Honourable Chief Judge Margaret Wiebe, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc. (MKO) Grand Chief Garrison Settee, Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) President David Chartrand, and their respective delegates to discuss the revitalized Indigenous Court Worker Program (ICWP).  A draft Terms of Reference for the Indigenous Court Workers Program Advisory Council was shared for feedback and support by the Chief Judge.  The ICWP has historically been a program administered by Manitoba Justice and has now been transferred to MKO, MMF, and the Southern Chiefs Organization (SCO). At present an agreement is being finalized with Island Lake Tribal Council (ILTC).

The purpose of the meeting with Chief Judge Wiebe was to strategize on how the Judicial branch, First Nations, and Metis organizations can work together in the relaunch of the ICWP in the Manitoba Courts and to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous Peoples in the judicial system.

“The transfer of the ICWP will present unique opportunities for the Court to explore Indigenous-led sentencing circles.  Sharing circles have long been a practice for First Nations as way of sharing and healing, so this presents an opportunity for offenders, victims of crime, and the Courts to sit, listen, and learn together with a focus on Restorative Justice, which also has roots in Indigenous culture and traditions.

The transfer of the ICWP will benefit both the Court and individuals who are scheduled to appear. It will provide an opportunity for people to have a clearer voice as their matters are being heard, as well as to clarify any misunderstandings as appearing in court can often be an unsettling experience for everyone involved.  We acknowledge Chief Judge Wiebe for her vision and leadership, as well as the Manitoba government in supporting the MKO First Nations towards the relaunch of the Indigenous Court Workers Program,” stated Grand Chief Settee.

Restorative Justice is another way of peace-making, or repairing the harm done when crimes are committed. With victim consent, the practice of sentencing circles, sharing circles, and the cultural safety they present allows victims of crime to have a louder voice within a court hearing.