Beyond the Fence: A virtual tour of a Canadian penitentiary - Aboriginal cultural centre

The Aboriginal cultural centre is a designated area that can be used for Aboriginal social and cultural activities. These activities are usually done with an Elder, Aboriginal Liaison Officer, or community members.

Under the law, CSC must be responsive to the needs of Aboriginal offenders. This involves providing a correctional system that respects their cultural views of justice and reconciliation.

All institutions have a Cultural Centre or Aboriginal area, though there are differences in layout and size. CSC also has Healing Lodges, where eligible Aboriginal inmates may serve their sentence.

Services and correctional programming, including access to Aboriginal-specific areas, contribute to the safe and timely reintegration of Aboriginal federal offenders into the community.

Smudge Bowl

Smudge BowlSmudging is a ceremony that is performed by many First Nations and is an act of purifying the mind, and physical surroundings. It can also be used before prayer or to bless sacred objects. In preparing to smudge, the medicines (sage, sweetgrass, cedars, etc) are placed in an abalone shell and are lit with a match. Other items are sometimes used as a smudge bowl. Aboriginal offenders are encouraged to reconnect with their traditional cultural and spiritual practices in an effort to support and sustain their reintegration.

Métis Sash

The sash is hand-woven and is made using bright colours and patterns which are indicative of different families. Generally wrapped around the midsection of the body, the sash has many uses such as for carrying items, coat tie, rope, towel, washcloth, etc. It is one of CSC’s corporate priorities to enhance the capacity to meet the cultural needs of all Aboriginal offenders, First Nations, Métis and Inuit.


DrumThe drum is used by many First Nations and Inuit people for song, prayer and ceremony. Each drum is made in a unique way. For First Nations, it is often made of hides of animals whereas Inuit drums are usually made of cloth. In most of CSC’s institutions, the teachings and interventions offered are often supported by traditional craft work such as carving, drum making, sewing, and painting.

Inuit Carving

QulliqInuit offenders are encouraged to embrace their cultural heritage by teaching and building on each other's life experiences. This includes speaking Inuktitut, carving, traditional Inuit drumming and storytelling.

A qulliq is an oil lamp used by Inuit. The lamp is often crescent-shaped, carved from soapstone, and traditionally is fueled by the oil from animal blubber. It is used to light and heat Inuit tents and igloos, for melting snow, cooking and drying clothes. It is also used for ceremonial purposes such as prayer and teachings.

Healing Lodge

Pê Sâkâstêw Centre: A Healing Lodge in Saskatchewan

Healing lodges are institutions where inmates may be eligible to serve the remainder of their sentence. These facilities are for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal inmates who follow an Aboriginal path, and take a holistic and spiritual approach to rehabilitation in line with cultural practices. Inmate programs and services are based on Aboriginal values, traditions, and beliefs. Offenders are supported by Elders, and there is an emphasis on promoting the role of the Aboriginal community in preparing inmates for successful release back into the community. Nearly all Healing Lodges are minimum-security facilities.

Healing lodges are located across the county, with no two being the same. This is Pê Sâkâstêw Centre (pronounced bay-saw-ga-stay-o) Healing Lodge in Maskwacis, Alberta.

Healing lodges are operated in one of two ways:

  • As facilities funded and run by CSC and CSC staff, or
  • As funded (in full or in part) by CSC and managed by the community through partner organizations.