A letter from the organizer of the Sask. prisoners’ hunger strike

The Saskatoon Provincial Correctional Centre, where Cardinal is incarcerated, saw around 120 inmates test positive for COVID-19 in early December. Imagery ©2021 Maxar Technologies, map data ©2021 Google Maps.

For the past month, COVID-19 has been ravaging Saskatchewan's prisons, with hundreds of prisoners testing positive in Saskatoon, Prince Albert, and Regina. Saskatchewan also has one of the highest incarceration rates of Indigenous people, with around 75 per cent of prisoners being Indigenous.

In response, today around 90 prisoners inside the Saskatoon Provincial Correctional Centre and Pine Grove Correctional Centre in Prince Albert began a hunger strike, demanding the resignation of Saskatchewan’s Corrections and Policing Minister Christine Tell for her failure to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks in jails.

Cory Charles Cardinal, a prisoner justice advocate incarcerated inside the SPCC who organized the hunger strike, penned this letter to outside advocates.

Dear advocates,

I speak on behalf of a generation of young lost Aboriginal warriors, surviving in a postmodern-day institution of colonial suppression that has unjustly labelled us as “criminals” and “thieves” as part of a 154-year-long campaign to diminish our identities as protectors of our people.

Within this architecture of oppression, we are a vibrant community of strong, intelligent brothers who eat together, wrestle and play together, and protect each other from a system that has exploited us. This system is rooted in a dominant mainstream society voter-base that has, over 154 years, cultivated prejudiced values to elect a biased government that has reduced us to surviving on watered-down peanut butter sandwiches.

It is true we have been targeted as Aboriginal men by a racist system. Despite this epidemic of incarceration, our resilient community of modern Aboriginal warriors has survived by will and creative ambition to prevail over many an enemy of poverty, addiction, and racism to find community and belonging and acceptance in this mainstream model of humanity. It is not by our own standards, for we are an oppressed people.

This cycle of systemic oppression must be broken and must be recognized for what it is: a modern-day act of genocide meant to eradicate a vulnerable people.

We are inmates of not only institutions of incarceration, but every other institution that has dominated us for years. We are inmates of poverty, of high suicide rates, of disease, and of overrepresentation in the justice system.

The current events surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak in provincial prisons is an example of the failure to protect vulnerable people in their care, an example of a 154-year-old tradition of ignoring the needs of a vulnerable people in their power to protect, which must not go unrecognized. This cycle of systemic oppression must be broken and must be recognized for what it is: a modern-day act of genocide meant to eradicate a vulnerable people.

We humbly appeal to the intelligent, educated minds that are more suitable and equipped in logic and law to employ and unite in conversations an inquiry into the epidemic of incarcerations, overuse of remand, over-incarceration of Aboriginals, and prevalent structures of colonialism, to mount a defense against the systemic oppression that has tortured our dignity and lives. Please include us in your model of humanity.

On behalf of a generation of young lost Aboriginal warriors,
Cory Charles Cardinal
Advocate with the inmates

Advocates are planning a day of action in solidarity with striking prisoners on January 6, 2021. Sign an open letter in solidarity with prisoners at the Saskatchewan correctional centres. Join the Facebook event to see a list of actions you can take wherever you are, to help demand the resignation of Christine Tell and ensure the safety and health of incarcerated people.