Roxanne Fischer started her career with CSC in 1996 and has held a range of jobs including Aboriginal Liaison Officer, Parole Officer, and Project Officer. Today she is the Deputy Director of Willow Cree Healing Lodge in Saskatchewan, where we sat down with her to talk about her work.
Why do you do this work?
I believe in Indigenous corrections and the importance of including culture and tradition into the correctional process. I see this healing lodge, and all of our healing lodges, as places of empowerment for our Indigenous offenders. We give them the chance to go back to their roots and to learn about who they really are.
Do you think it works? Can offenders change?
They can. For some offenders, it happens right away. For others, they need a number of chances before they finally get it. But through that whole process and with the culturally-specific support and services that we provide to them, I believe that change happens.
What do we need to know about these offenders? What are they dealing with when they arrive at the healing lodge?
Most of the offenders who come here have a limited support system, if at all, outside of the correctional system. Many of them have family members who are also involved in the criminal justice system, who have substance abuse issues, and who have experienced various forms of abuse and violence in their lives. That means that when offenders leave our custody, they are often returning to environments that can encourage and support criminal behaviour that will land them back in our custody.
Our job is to help them establish positive community relationships through local Elders, who come to spend time with our offenders, and other community role models who can support them through their correctional process. By doing so, we are empowering the offenders to develop positive relationships and to become role models for the younger generation.
How does this work impact you personally?
I am an Indigenous woman who grew up with family members who were incarcerated, family members who were murdered, and family members who had substance abuse issues. Many of our offenders have experienced a loss of personal respect, a loss of personal power, and a loss of culture. I can relate to that. It’s simply a matter of choices between them and I. I could just as easily have been an offender at the lodge as I am the Deputy Director.
CSC has come a long way with Indigenous corrections. Where do we go from here?
When I started with CSC, there were no known Indigenous managers, there was very limited programming for Indigenous offenders, and Elders did not have a regular presence in our institutions. That has changed and, as you said, we have come a long way. As for where we go from here? I’d love for all staff to be educated and informed about Indigenous social history and how that has impacted the offenders in our care. I’d also love to see more Indigenous people in senior-level management positions throughout the organization. I know we are headed there already and I plan to stick around to see it happen.
Let’s Talk would like to thank Roxanne for speaking with us. We wish her all the best as she continues her work at Willow Cree Healing Lodge.