OTTAWA—The RCMP has been quietly meeting with national aboriginal organizations to start building a better relationship with indigenous peoples following a long history of mutual distrust.
“I think we have seen that, historically, the relationship with policing in Canada for aboriginal peoples has been tenuous at best,” said Dawn Lavell Harvard, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC).
“It’s important to sit down and say, ‘Enough pointing fingers. What are we going to do to make this better? What are we going to do to improve this relationship?’ Because quite frankly, indigenous people aren’t going away and neither is the RCMP. We need to find a way to make this relationship work in a positive way,” she said.
A watershed moment came late last year when RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson responded to a question from the floor of an Assembly of First Nations (AFN) gathering in Gatineau, Que., about racism under his watch.
“I hear what you say. I understand there are racists in my police force. I don’t want them to be in my police force,” Paulson said Dec. 9.
The Star has learned that AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde, who told the top Mountie that day his presence at the meeting was “starting to earn that trust and respect,” has since followed up with a one-on-one meeting with Paulson to discuss the way forward.
“The discussion focused on the need for concrete action to end racism within the police force,” the AFN said of the Jan. 15 meeting in an emailed statement, as Bellegarde was unavailable for an interview Thursday.
The AFN said the meeting touched on specific recommendations, such as: cultural competency training for officers; better operations, including improved investigations and communication, when it comes to cases involving First Nations people and their families; and protocols for community engagement.
Another recommendation was for “accurate and reliable” data collection systems and databases, an area highlighted by a recent Star investigation into missing and murdered indigenous women, which raised questions about the solve rates of homicides and relationships between perpetrators and victims.
The efforts did not begin and end with that one-on-one meeting.
The Star has also learned the Mounties formed a working group devoted to empowering indigenous women and preventing violence that includes representatives from six aboriginal organizations, which will meet for the second time Feb. 17 at RCMP national headquarters in Ottawa.
RCMP spokesman Sgt. Harold Pfleiderer said the meeting is part of long-lasting and ongoing “solid relationship” with the national aboriginal organizations, which the Mounties meet with quarterly.
“These meetings focus on ways the RCMP can partner with the (national aboriginal organizations) in the areas of crime prevention and reducing the victimization of indigenous peoples,” Pfleiderer wrote in a statement.
“It’s about working together and coming up with some change through a positive working relationship,” said Chief Dwight Dorey of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, which represents non-status Indians and others living off-reserve.
Lavell Harvard said Paulson took a “courageous first step” by acknowledging racism was part of the problem and sees the meetings — both the working group and other informal conversations — as a way to start tackling the monumental challenge of missing and murdered indigenous women now, rather than after the promised national inquiry makes its recommendations.
She also said she has already seen some changes, in that when families of missing or murdered indigenous women call her organization seeking help in dealing with the RCMP, she can pass along the concerns to an actual name and number.
“In the past we wouldn’t have even known who to call. The fact that we have started having some conversations and having that partnership gives us somebody that we can call, somebody that we can pass that along to and say, ‘How can we help here?’ Rather than us just saying there is nothing we can do, because all that does is make the situation worse,” she said.
Lavell Harvard said she would like to see the RCMP replicate a toolkit NWAC hands out to families of missing and murdered indigenous women — featuring tips on how to navigate the process, including how to file a missing persons report, ask questions, take notes, spread the word and advocate — so detectives can provide it to them directly.
“We need our families to be able to feel that they can go to the police for support when they need to,” she said.
Clément Chartier, president of the Métis National Council, also agreed the relationship needs work, but shared his personal feeling of disillusionment following an earlier meeting with the RCMP on missing and murdered indigenous women.
In 1961, Chartier was 15 years old and at residential school in The Pas, Man., when his mother, Rosa Chartier, was beaten to death in his hometown of Buffalo Narrows, Sask.
He said two people were later acquitted and he has always felt a sense of injustice about a crime he believes would have been handled differently if his mother had been a white woman.
Chartier said he “warmed up to the RCMP” at the meeting and followed up, saying he would be interested in pursuing what happened to his mother, but after being referred to a couple of different people all he was told was to get the transcripts from the trial and read them for himself.
“It kind of personally soured me a bit in terms of this whole process,” said Chartier, whose schedule will not allow him to attend the Feb. 17 meeting and he did not feel inclined to change it.
“I didn’t have a burning desire to make myself available to sit there and listen to them,” said Chartier, who plans to attend the families gathering ahead of the second national roundtable on missing and murdered indigenous women in Winnipeg at the end of the month.
Red Power Media contains copyrighted material. We are making such material available to our readers under the provisions of “fair dealing” in an effort to advance a better understanding of Indigenous – political, economic and social issues. The material on this site is distributed without profit to our followers for educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material for purposes other than “fair dealing” you must request permission from the copyright owner.