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Dignitaries break ground at site of new South Okanagan Correctional Centre
If “Shorty” Baptiste was still alive, he may have grabbed one of those bronze shovels in anticipation of last Friday’s sod-turning ceremony at the new site for the South Okanagan Correctional Centre near Oliver.
Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB) Chief Clarence Louie noted that Baptiste was no stranger to jail. But once Shorty heard that a new correctional centre was being built, he thought the band should bid on it.
Louie was one of several speakers during the groundbreaking at the construction site in Senkulmen Business Park.
Construction on the site is expected to begin in early August. It will take more than two years to complete construction and the provincial government has targeted the fall of 2016 for an official opening.
The chief said this is the first time that a B.C. prison is being constructed on native land and the OIB wants to do something special for aboriginal people who often find themselves behind prison walls.
“Too many natives are winding up in jail … the statistics don’t lie.”
Louie said there will be many meetings about the types of aboriginal programs that will be offered to inmates in the correctional centre.
For example, for the first time, horses will be used as part of the programs used to rehabilitate First Nations prisoners, he pointed out.
“We’ve lost our relationship with animals … it’s good therapy,” Louie said, adding inmates will have the opportunity to interact with horses during incarceration.
The sod-turning ceremony began with three youngsters on horseback leading the procession.
Elders then blessed the land and the people who work there, saying words that “go back thousands of years,” Louie said.
A smudging ceremony designed as ritual cleansing followed by taking away negative energy and replacing it with positive energy.
Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton said the construction site will soon be crawling with heavy machinery as they work towards a 2016 completion date. Anton boasted that the $193-million project will create 1,000 jobs during the construction phase.
She added this will lead to many economic spin-offs to the business community across the South Okangan, including local coffee shops, restaurants, home building companies and automobile dealerships.
Louie said he’s hoping to see native and non-natives working side by side during the project. Once the facility is operational, more than 240 full-time correctional positions will be available and he’s confident that many of those jobs will be offered to First Nation applicants.
The minister said these jobs will play an important role in rehabilitating offenders.
Anton said the 378-cell facility will be specially designed for the safety of staff and inmates.
“It will take pressure off (local) police,” she added.
She noted the centre will make a big difference in the lives of people who have lost their way in life.
Some of the programs will include violence prevention, relationship skills, substance abuse management and vocational programs.
Anna Terbasket, from the South Okanagan Restorative Justice Program, said she is looking forward to assisting in the rehabilitation process at the prison.
Boundary-Similkameen MLA Linda Larson will head up a liaison committee that will oversee the facility’s construction schedule.
This committee will consist of Oliver Mayor Ron Hovanes, Osoyoos Mayor Stu Wells, Area C director Allan Patton, Penticton Mayor Garry Litke, and Penticton MLA Dan Ashton.
Larson said the correctional centre will be a strong economic driver for the Okanagan, bringing good-paying jobs to the region and attracting dozens of families to buy homes and live in this area.
When it sounded like thunder was rolling across the sky in Senkulmen, Louie said it reminded him of Chief Crazy Horse.
“When he died, his spirit came back as thunder,” said Louie.
Special to the Times