Facebook video of the meeting has been viewed more than 5,000 times
By Jillian Coubrough, CBC News Posted: Apr 25, 2016
When two police officers showed up at the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) office in Winnipeg, where protestors have been peacefully occupying for 12 days, the group figured the worst.
“I heard someone say ‘the police are here’ and the warriors went to the elevator to block them,” protest supporter, Vivian Ketchum told CBC News. The occupiers are standing in solidarity with the Attawapiskat community and other First Nations amid a suicide crisis.
“I thought for sure we we’re going to be taken out of there,” said Ketchum of the police’s arrival.
Instead, a moment that Ketchum said could have gone bad, a protestor invited the officers inside to smudge and participate in the sharing circle. She began recording on her camera.
“I just wanted to extend an offering of peace and respect,” one police officer told the group, “You guys have got a legitimate concern for your brothers and sisters…we just wanted to see if there is anything we can do and, you know, extend a hand.”
The group erupted into cheers, before the second officer begins to speak.
He explained the pair were on foot patrol and didn’t know what was happening in the INAC office and thanked the group for inviting him to partake in the ceremony.
“A lot of times, what you’ll find is officers that they, people take at face value, they’ll see somebody dressed a certain way, looking a certain way — and I speak from experience, too they judge,” he said.
“I want to extend to you, as well, as far as when you see us dressed the way we are, also not to judge us upon the basis of our uniforms. We come here, this is who we are. When we take our uniforms off, this is who we are. We help people the same without the uniform on and with the uniform off.”
Protesters in disbelief
Ketchum posted the video to Facebook and it has been viewed more than 5,000 times.
“It was just at that moment things could have went bad, I was shocked that they did agree to come in the sharing circle with us. And then the mood kind of eased up a little bit,” she said, adding it gave her some hope.
“[For] better relations, better understanding — why we’re occupying this building, why we’re there.” Occupier Lionel Daniels said he was also in disbelief.
“For them to acknowledge that they’re veteran cops, that they walk the streets day and night and them even acknowledging that there is racism within the Winnipeg police department was huge,” he said, adding he appreciated the officer’s respect of their peaceful protest.
“That’s why we’re all here is for that is love. The last thing we want these children that are already in their dark places in their mind is to see confrontation.”
Occupier not convinced by police visit
Daniels said it was a step in the right direction to building better relations between indigenous people and police but occupiers, we’re also skeptical.
Crystal Green said the visit “was good public relations” but she does not trust the officers’ motivation.
“With 30 of us people being in that sharing circle…of course they’re going to show their good side, with smiles and come to us appearing non-threatening,” she said.
“The reason why were cautious is because many of us have had a lot of bad experiences with the police.”
Green said ultimately they disrupted a sacred sharing circle and she believes the purpose of the visit was to gain intel on the occupation to pass on to the police force. She added subsequent visits from officers have not been so friendly. Winnipeg Police told CBC News they are proud of the officers’ conduct.