Circle of healing at YCC
Offering a traditional alternative to punishment

Glen Korstrom
Northern News Services

NNSL (Oct 06/99) - Both Manitoba elder Bob Wasicuna and traditional counsellor Ray Tuccaro note marked improvement in YCC inmates' outlooks since a traditional healing program started in May.

Hopelessness and helplessness are gone and there is more of a sense of being able to control one's future.

"Before, if they didn't have plans they'd say 'When I get out I don't know what I'm going to do,'" said Wasicuna, who helped kick-off the program in May and is back in Yellowknife on a month-long follow-up visit.

"This time, (they say) 'when I get out I know I have lots of friends here but when I get out they're going to be drinking so I need to change my friends and move away from here.'"

The traditional healing program has taken place throughout the summer in a seven-metre frame teepee on the YCC grounds every Tuesday evening.

Anywhere from six to 17 inmates sit in a circle and open the session with a prayer.

Then Tuccaro, holding an eagle feather, introduces himself. After telling who he is, he passes the feather to an inmate who introduces himself.

The feather is passed around the circle. Only the person holding the feather can speak.

"Everyone speaks and passes the feather, tells a life story and things that have happened in their life," Tuccaro said.

"Part of the healing is getting things off your chest."

Though only 17 of about 130 of YCC's inmates have shown up at the circle so far, Tuccaro calls the program a success.

"It is a start. The inmates have to make that commitment. Sometimes it takes longer but when they're ready they will be joining us," he said.

"If there's more inmates, we'll make it twice a week."

Wasicuna said the traditional healing is a better solution than punishment to get inmates to integrate into society.

"The main idea (of punishment) is that you're going to stay here two or three years. That's your punishment.

But punishment doesn't work. What works is healing and that's what we're trying to do," he said.

Wasicuna said there are many different ways of healing.

Just leading a healthy lifestyle helps. That means respecting things like eating, sleeping, working, going to a purification lodge, taking medicine, talking and crying.

"These are all different ways of having healing for yourself," Wasicuna said.

"The way I see it, it's a physical healing, it's a spiritual healing, it's an emotional healing and it's a mental healing. It's a holistic healing. That's the way I see it."

Family is another integral part of the healing with family members being drawn in before an inmate is released into the community.

"What we try to do is look on the inside of us to see what's there so we can start individual healing and holistic healing," he said.

"I don't bring anything from the outside. The healing comes from within a person."