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Tsawwassen First Nation

Indigenous Technology Summit

Tsawwassen First Nation representatives Virgil Awasis (left), Elder Barbara Joe, Applecross Innovations president Graham Andrews, and Delta Police community liaison Const. Mike Grandia

By Graham Andrews
Applecross Innovations

As Tsawwassen First Nation Elder Barbara Joe supports them with prayer, “her boys”, Virgil Awasis and Const. Mike Grandia, address a national gathering of Indigenous leaders and entrepreneurs, and representatives from the federal government and major tech manufacturers.

Describing the First Nation’s dividend-paying approach to restorative justice may be an unfamiliar experience for them, but their love is palpable.

That should come as no surprise. Love and kindness are the tools of the trade for Elder Barb, Virgil, Mike, and the TFN community on the whole; particularly when faced with actions that might be somewhat less than loving and kind.

In the approximately six years since reformalization, TFN’s traditional diversionary justice program has paired misled youth with Elders and other community members that reintroduce centuries-old teachings to emphasize reintegration over segregation. The resultant successes are obvious.

“Someone might be sentenced to do a certain number of community hours, but they find their place and keep coming back long after those hours have been finished,” said Elder Barb.

“When a person comes to see a mental-health worker or the probation officer, they’re not doing the ‘walk of shame’ anymore. People know they can talk about these things in the open.”

The youth diversion program has been so successful that Mike, a community liaison officer from the Delta Police Service, can’t recall the last time one of TFN’s youth was formally charged. The rate of reoffending has fallen to zero among former young-offenders who went through the program; a condition that, for Virgil, is a natural extension of healing historical traumas.

The youth diversion program received so much notice, in fact, that a B.C. judge recently referred a TFN adult to an age-appropriate diversion program that didn’t formally exist. So the First Nation did what came naturally; they welcomed the person who might otherwise have been sent to jail.

And it sets an excellent sometimes surprising example, Mike said, as he related the story of one young TFN member who self-consciously shuffled into the policeman’s office one morning not long ago.

“He told me that he had been out doing some mischief the night before,” said Mike. “He outran the police. And I said, ‘Wow, you must be pretty fast on your feet … but, why are you here now if you got away?’ And this young guy says, ‘Because I need diversion, Mike. I don’t want to be on the run.’ “

For more information on Tsawwassen First Nation’s diversion program, please contact them directly at mgrandia@deltapolice.ca or vawasis@tsawwassen.com.

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