Founder & Executive Director
Patti Pettigrew is the founder and Executive Director of TWHL. A former Gladue writer and an advocate for vulnerable Indigenous women for over forty years, Patti is a member of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation in North-Eastern Ontario. A social activist fighting for Indigenous and women's rights for over 40 years, Patti has worked across Canada, for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous organizations, building a depth of knowledge and specialist expertise relating to addictions, trauma, and the justice system, and empowering Indigenous women to recognize the strength of their Cultural teachings. TWHL is the product of her vision to respond to the urgent needs of local Indigenous women involved in the correctional system.
Kelly Potvin is President of TWHL and the Executive Director of Elizabeth Fry Toronto. Kelly is of Metis and Mohawk ancestry from Akwesasne and Northern Quebec. She has over 20 years of experience in the non-profit sector, working with at-risk women and individuals with mental health issues. In addition to extensive front-line work and organizational management expertise, she is a passionate advocate for equity and social justice - particularly for women and girls who have been marginalized and, as a result, have come into conflict with the law. She is committed to work that takes a gendered lens towards anti-racism and anti-oppression.
TWHLS is a community-driven initiative raised out of concern and recognition of the urgent need to break the cycle of Indigenous women’s over-representation in Canada’s prisons and support their healing, rehabilitation and meaningful reintegration into society.
The over-incarceration of Indigenous women is a national crisis. Driven by entrenched bias, it robs women of their freedom and children of their mothers. We believe the best way to reduce the number of Indigenous women in Canada’s jails is to create opportunities for us to thrive.
Indigenous-led, we provide trauma-informed, culturally-appropriate services for First Nation, Inuit, and Metis women exiting the justice system to support their journey to heal, to reclaim positive cultural identity, and empower themselves to take their honoured place within their community and culture.
Thunder Woman Healing Lodge Society will promote and provide services for First Nation, Inuit, and Metis Women to focus on their journey to wholeness and balance.
To provide First Nation, Inuit, and Metis women a place in the Greater Toronto Area to heal and reclaim positive cultural identity, rehabilitation and wellness.
To establish a Healing Lodge for First Nations, Inuit, and Metis women who are in conflict with the law, and for those who have survived intergenerational trauma. To provide cultural support, traditional knowledge and resources, for the advancement of wholeness and balance. To empower First Nations, Inuit, and Metis Women to take their honoured place within their community and culture.
The Over-Incarceration of Indigenous Women
The evidence is unambiguous: If you are Indigenous, justice in Canada is not blind. In many ways, prisons have replaced residential schools as the new primary source of family disintegration and community fragmentation for Canada’s original peoples.
Indigenous women represent 63% of all incarcerated women – even though they are barely 4% of the Canadian population. And while incarceration rates are falling for the population overall, Indigenous women are the fastest growing among any prison demographic in Canada.
Indigenous women are more likely to be prosecuted and imprisoned than non-Indigenous offenders. From 2009 to 2019, the number of Indigenous women sentenced to federal prisons grew by 60% (the majority for non-violent offences). They are also likely to receive longer sentences, and serve more of their sentences. 95% of incarcerated Indigenous women have unresolved and inter-generational trauma that is not addressed in correctional institutions; their employment needs go largely unmet in prison, and they have few accommodation or support services after release.
There can be no clearer message on the crisis proportions of Indigenous women’s over-representation in Canada’s jails than the consistent warnings of Dr. Ivan Zinger, the Correctional Investigator of Canada:
- Indigenous People in Federal Custody Surpasses 30% | Correctional Investigator Issues Statement and Challenge | 21 January, 2020
- Office of the Correctional Investigator Annual Report 2018-2019
- Office of the Correctional Investigator Annual Report 2017-2018
- Office of the Correctional Investigator Annual Report 2016-2017
- Spirit Matters: Aboriginal People and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act | Final Report 22 October, 2012
Indigenous Healing Lodges
Healing Lodges address the rehabilitative needs of Aboriginal people involved with the justice system, reconnecting them with their culture, spirituality, and communities. They are safe havens, where people can transform their trauma and hurt into a powerful connection to culture and identity that has too often been missing. With a confident sense of self, new and more positive paths for rehabilitation and reintegration unfold.
In addition to there being no Healing Lodge facilities for Indigenous women in Ontario, there are currently no half-way houses for women in the Greater Toronto Area that are handicap accessible. If women leaving custody are unable to climb stairs, they are forced to leave their community – and possibly their families – to find a facility outside of Toronto to enable their release.
Over 25 years after Canada introduced legislation aimed at giving Indigenous communities the power to rehabilitate offenders in community-run healing lodges, critics say those lodges are struggling — while the number of Indigenous inmates in prisons continues to rise.
Sections 81 and 84 of the 1992 federal Corrections and Conditional Release Act allow Indigenous communities to oversee the care and custody of Indigenous inmates, and allow for communities to be involved in planning for the release of an Indigenous inmate. Healing lodges were created to help address the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the prison system and a lack of Indigenous programming. Correctional Service of Canada is supposed to fund these processes.
Truth & Reconciliation
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) calls upon the federal government to eliminate barriers to the creation of additional healing lodges within the federal correction system. It also calls upon the federal, provincial, and territorial governments to work with Aboriginal communities to provide culturally-relevant services to inmates on issues such as substance abuse, family and domestic violence, and overcoming the experience of having been sexually abused.
We invite allied government agencies to take transformative action, as identified by the TRC, by supporting TWHL’s mission and vision to provide First Nation, Inuit, and Metis women offenders with safe spaces and a continuum of culturally-appropriate supports accessible to the Greater Toronto Area to heal and reclaim positive cultural identity, rehabilitation, and wellness.