Corrections - Aboriginal Spirituality Policy

Policies and Guidelines

Aboriginal Spirituality

The following information is a summary of Correctional Services’ Aboriginal Rights policy.

Ontario’s Correctional Services are committed to providing Aboriginal inmates, which includes First Nations, Inuit and Métis, access to their traditional spiritual practices, and to ensuring that these practices are given the same status and protections afforded other faith groups.

Visits by an Elder

In addition to the general spiritual care provided by institution chaplains, an Aboriginal inmate will be permitted access to an Aboriginal spiritual leader, Elder or Healer. These visits will be permitted during operationally viable hours, are subject to the superintendent’s normal control of visits to the institution and are in addition to visits described in the Visiting Policy. The Chaplain, Native Inmate Liaison Officer (NILO), Inuit Liaison Worker (ILW) or other person designated by the superintendent will coordinate these visits.

Ceremonies

Individual and group ceremonies play an important role in Aboriginal spiritual practices. Opportunities to participate in traditional communal worship ceremonies will be provided to First Nation, Metis and Inuit inmates when an Aboriginal spiritual leader, Elder or Healer is available. Communal ceremonies may include Sweatlodge Ceremonies, Healing Circles, Pipe Ceremonies and Feasts. All ceremonies require a NILO or Elder to be present to conduct or oversee the ceremony with the exception of smudging.

  • First priority for attendance at any ceremony will be given to Aboriginal inmates who wish to participate. Inmates with sincerely held beliefs in Aboriginal spiritual practices can participate in standalone ceremonies. Inmates not part of an Aboriginal program may also participate provided there is space available.
  • The Sweatlodge is a place to seek healing from grief or trauma as well as direction and guidance for better living. Sweatlodges on Correctional Services property will normally be regarded as temporary structures. In the absence of Sweatlodges, superintendents will encourage alternative spiritual observances in consultation with an Aboriginal spiritual leader, Elder or Healer.
  • Indoor accommodations are to be provided where and when required and can take place in chapels or program rooms. Accommodations must be provided or established through consultation between the superintendent and the Aboriginal Elder, NILO or an Aboriginal spiritual leader for ceremonies involving the burning of medicines or smudging. Methods that may be used to minimize smoke when burning medicines indoors include the use of an air/smoke purifier, fans, ventilation and opening of windows.
  • Aboriginal spirituality must not be impacted by the ministry’s smoking policies.
  • Smudging may occur outdoors where weather permits and as requested by inmate(s).
  • Inmate smudges may occur in the absence of a NILO or Elder. Medicines for this purpose shall be kept in an accessible location for trained staff to retrieve and will be held in suitable containers to avoid staff directly handling medicines.
  • Spiritual practices and teachings as they relate to sacred items, medicines and Moontime may vary. Cultural teachings should be sought from the Elder or NILO.  
  • Sacred items such as drums, pipes and feathers may be brought into the institution temporarily by the Elder or NILO following clearance by the security manager and must be properly and securely stored. The Elder or NILO is responsible for the care and control of these items while in the institution. Items must not be left in the facility when the Elder or NILO’s services are discontinued.

Ceremonial Clothing

Clothing that is worn for special events and ceremonies (regalia for a powwow, ribbon shirts, pants and skirts, ceremonial dresses, moccasins or the Métis sash) should not be altered in anyway except by the owner of the clothing or with the consultation and guidance of an Elder.

Fasts

If an inmate requests to fast, a meeting will be arranged with an Elder/NILO as soon as possible. The meeting will help to determine the appropriateness of doing a full fast while in custody. Following the meeting, consultation between the superintendent and the Elder/NILO should occur to discuss the outcome and next steps.

Feasts

Feasts can be approved and conducted in institutions and will be coordinated by the Aboriginal resource person (i.e. NILO, ILW). There are generally four Feasts per year to coincide with the change of seasons, although institutions are not limited to just four.

  • The Aboriginal resource person coordinating the Feast will receive approval from the superintendent or designate regarding menu, process and managing security issues.
  • Consultation with the local Public Health Unit is required in order to develop proper local procedures for Feasts. These procedures will be followed for all Feasts.
  • Where staff are asked to prepare food for the Feast, only staff who receive the related cultural teachings should handle the food. This is to ensure that the spiritual integrity of the Feast is maintained.

Sacred Medicines and Other Items

An inmate will be provided with essential traditional medicines upon request or at the request of an Elder. These medicines must be identified by the NILO, ILW, Elder or Healer. These items are to be kept in a medicine bag or sacred pouch that meets security standards.

Providing Inmates with Medicine Bags, Sacred Pouches or Amulets

An inmate may be provided with a small medicine bag, sacred pouch and other sacred items during visitation by a spirit leader, Elder or Healer, and following clearance by the NILO, ILW, or Chaplaincy and the security manager. Medicine bags or amulets will remain with an inmate in their living unit at all times during their incarceration.

All spiritual items, with the exception of the medicine bag or amulets, will be held in a designated area when not being used, and only handled by designated staff under the direction of the Elder.