Grand Chief’s band plays for inmates inside Manitoba’s Stony Mountain Institution

A celebration of National Indigenous Peoples Day brought together inmates last week at Stony Mountain Institution.

CTV News was granted exclusive access inside the prison walls Friday as they gathered with community partners for an afternoon of music, dancing and a feast. It was all part of an effort by a Manitoba grand chief to reach out to an Indigenous population which is overrepresented in Canada’s correctional system.

“I wouldn’t recommend anybody come here,” said Jonas Budd, a 52-year-old Cree man from Saskatchewan serving a life sentence with no chance of parole for at least 14 years for second-degree murder.

The prison’s reputation is no secret to Budd. It has been the scene of in-custody deaths, stabbings and drug seizures. The offenders living in the facility are serving lengthy sentences for some of the most serious offences.

“When I first got here, I’m not going to lie, it was a big culture shock,” said Larry Duck, 31, of Onigaming First Nation in Ontario. “I’m not used to being in an environment like this.”

For a few hours, the prison yard turned into an outdoor concert venue.

The performance was led by Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Garrison Settee.

He’s visited the prison once before but this time he brought his band, Keewatin Breeze.

Settee told the crowd he asked Janalee Bell-Boychuk, Stony Mountain Institution’s Warden, if his band could play after seeing a photo of Johnny Cash on her wall during his previous trip to the facility.

“We try to celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day every year but this particular event is very special,” said Laura Kirby, Manager of Assessment and Intervention at Stony Mountain Institution.

The band started off by playing a cover of Trooper’s “We’re Here For A Good Time (Not A Long Time).” Settee followed that up with the Rolling Stone’s “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”

They also played “Folsom Prison Blues” at the request of some of the men in attendance.

There was a feast, a powwow demonstration and a drum group featuring inmates including Duck.

He’s reconnecting with his culture while serving a 15-year sentence in the institution’s Pathways unit which has a focus on Indigenous healing.

“I participate in cultural ceremonies, I participate in sweats and I’m relearning how to live my culture again,” Duck said.

According to a recent report from Canada’s correctional investigator, Indigenous people make up around 30 per cent of the federal prison population and just five per cent of the country’s population. That is a big reason why the grand chief visits.

“I just wanted to take that step to show those relatives of ours here that they matter and we’re waiting for them when they come out on the other side,” Settee said. “We want to be able to give them the hope to start a new life because everybody deserves a second chance.”

A message that resonated with Budd.

“As a lifer, you don’t have a guarantee that you’re ever getting out,” he said.

For the past three months, he’s been taking part in sweat lodge ceremonies and working with elders in the institution’s Spiritual Lodge.

“I’m learning a lot about my culture. I’m learning a lot about myself and it’s actually helping me with my healing journey because I am a product of the Sixties Scoop, my parents are a product of the residential schools.”

While days like this remind him of the trauma First Nations people face, they also give him hope for the future.

The inmates who participated in the celebration signed up to take part.

They were all from the medium-security portion of the prison.

The Correctional Service of Canada said inmates who attended were advised they could provide $5 donation for food served at the event, however, it was not a requirement in order to attend. 

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