Tag Archives: Indigenous

Canada’s largest Indigenous police force has never shot anyone dead

Photo: Nishnawbe-Aski Police Service.

TORONTO — In its 26 years of existence, officers with Canada’s largest Indigenous police force have never shot and killed anyone and no officer has died in the line of duty, despite a grinding lack of resources and an absence of normal accountability mechanisms.

It’s a record of which the Nishnawbe Aski Police Service is proud, especially in light of the recent uproar in North America over police killings and brutality involving Indigenous, Black, and mentally distressed people. It’s a record achieved in communities frequently in social distress, places where hunting rifles and shotguns are ubiquitous.

The key difference from urban, non-Indigenous policing, insiders and observers say, is the relationship building between officers and the people they serve.

“In the past, you might have been the only officer in there,” Roland Morrison, chief of NAPS says from Thunder Bay, Ont. “You would have no radio, you’ve got no backup, so you really effectively have to use your communication and talk to people. You have to develop relationships with the communities in order to have positive policing.”

Inaugurated in 1994, NAPS is responsible for policing more than 38,000 people in 34 communities, many beyond remote, across a vast, largely untamed swath of northern Ontario. Currently the service has 203 officers, about 60 per cent of them Indigenous, Morrison says. Its mandate is culturally responsive policing.

Erick Laming, a criminology PhD candidate at the University of Toronto, says people from First Nation communities — many with an ingrained suspicion of police given the brutal realities of generations of enforced residential school attendance — have a higher level of trust when officers are Indigenous.

In contrast, he said, new RCMP recruits with no such background might find themselves in Nunavut or Yukon confronted with significant language and cultural barriers.

“If you’re from the community, you have those lived experiences. You can relate to people. You just know how to deal with the issues,” says Laming, who is from the Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nation north of Kingston, Ont.

“If you don’t have that history, you can have all the cultural-sensitivity training in the world, you’ll never fully be able to fully integrate into that situation.”

Another example, he said, is the service in Kahnawake, Que., which calls itself the Kahnawake Peacekeepers rather than a police force.

While all officers in Ontario undergo the same basic training, the province’s nine Indigenous police services are fundamentally different from their non-Indigenous counterparts.

For one thing, they are not deemed an essential service, although federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said last month that policing First Nations communities should be. Nor are those in Ontario subject to the provincial Police Services Act, which mandates standards, including for an extensive oversight framework.

Now, the process for filing complaints against members of an Indigenous police force is ad hoc, although NAPS does have a professional standards branch and will on occasion call in Ontario Provincial Police. Officers have been disciplined, charged or even fired for excessive use of force.

Another difference is that Indigenous forces are completely reliant on the vagaries of government program funding — with Ottawa footing 52 per cent of the bill and provinces 48 per cent. The current operations budget for NAPS, for example, is around $37.7 million — more than its peers — with expenses approaching $40 million.

The upshot, particularly in years gone by, has been a dire shortage of officers and even of basic facilities and equipment that urbanites can scarcely imagine. In more than a dozen cases, Indigenous self-administered police services in Canada have simply folded.

Now retired, Terry Armstrong, who spent 22 years with Ontario Provincial Police as well as five years as chief of NAPS, says people would be shocked to find out just how poorly funded First Nations policing has been.

Armstrong recounts how a few years ago, in the Hudson Bay community of Fort Severn, Ont., a NAPS officer found himself dealing with a homicide. Besides having to secure three crime scenes and the body, the lone officer had to arrest the suspect and deal with a separate gun call. Bad weather prevented any forensic or other help flying in until the following day.

One thing he always stressed to newcomers as chief, Armstrong says, is the importance of treating people respectfully.

“Some day, they’re going to be your backup. When stuff goes south, you’re going to need people to support you,” he says. “If you’re going to be a dick … when you need help, they aren’t going to be there for you.”

One frigid afternoon in February 2013, the only on-duty NAPS officer in Kasabonika Lake First Nation in Ontario’s far north detained Lena Anderson, an intoxicated young mother upset over the apprehension of her daughter. The new detachment portable was unheated. The old holding cell was unusable because prisoners could escape through holes in the floor.

The arresting officer left Anderson, 23, in the caged back seat of his Ford 150 police truck for warmth while he went to get help from his off-duty colleague. Alone for 16 minutes, Anderson strangled herself.

The tragedy, combined with a threatened strike over working conditions by NAPS officers, caused an uproar. The situation, says Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, prompted his Nishnawbe Aski Nation to take a stand. Governments, he said, had to do better or face the far more daunting prospect of doing the policing themselves.

As a result, Fiddler says, a new funding agreement was reached in 2018 that allowed the hiring of 79 new officers over five years and critical infrastructure upgrades to detachments and poor or non-existent communication systems. Most importantly, he said, the deal set in motion pending Ontario legislation that would finally allow First Nations police services to opt in to the Police Services Act, putting in place solid standards and accountability mechanisms.

“That’s something our communities and citizens deserve.” Fiddler says. “If they have an issue with NAPS, there should be a forum for them to pursue their grievance.”

However, giving investigative authority to the province’s Special Investigations Unit or Office of the Independent Police Review Director must come with cultural safety built in, he says.

Stephen Leach, current review director, says his office is not yet involved in the opt-in process.

“My expectation is that once the Community Safety and Policing Act is proclaimed and the opt-in process is further along, then I would be involved in explaining how the public complaints process works, and listening to how it might have to be adapted to meet the needs of First Nations communities,” Leach says.

Stephen Warner, a spokesman for Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, confirmed the government was working on regulations to the new act. Part of the work, he said, was to set clear and consistent standards for policing delivery “informed by, and responsive to, the views of the communities that police are both a part of and serve.”

Toronto-based lawyer Julian Falconer calls the new legislation a game changer. Despite having devoted much of his career to holding police accountable, he says he has no qualms in representing NAPS.

Despite, or perhaps because of, their chronic lack of resources, Falconer says Indigenous police behave much differently from their urban counterparts. He cites the dearth of police killings and racist behaviours that have sown deep mistrust of policing among Indigenous, Black and marginalized groups.

“Mainstream policing has a lot to learn from Indigenous policing,” Falconer said. “The relationship between community and policing is so dramatically different.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on July 12, 2020

[SOURCE]

COVID-19 outbreaks in 23 First Nations prompting concerns

OTTAWA — Federal officials say the next two weeks will be crucial in trying to determine the scope and severity of the spread of COVID-19 in First Nations communities.

Cases of the virus have begun to present within Indigenous communities across Canada, including the first case in Nunavut — something health officials have been bracing for with concern, given the many vulnerabilities that exist among Indigenous populations.

Dr. Tom Wong, chief medical officer of public health at Indigenous Services Canada, says it’s too early to determine the severity of these outbreaks and whether the situation will worsen.

He said health officials are closely monitoring the situations and have jumped into action where needed.

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller noted a particular concern over an outbreak in the Dene village of La Loche, about 600 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon.

Conservative MP Gary Vidal, who represents the northern Saskatchewan riding where the village is located, said his concern is personal.

“This is my hometown, this is my area. These are families and kids that I coached in hockey and they’re all friends and connections, so this has become very personal for me suddenly,” Vidal told Miller during a House of Commons committee meeting Friday.

He noted the outbreak includes the deaths of two elders living in a care facility and that there are now also active cases in the neighbouring First Nation communities of English River and Clearwater River Dene.

“It’s too late for reactive measures, now is the time for a major proactive response from (Indigenous Services Canada) in northern Saskatchewan. This has become a very dangerous situation,” Vidal said.

Miller acknowledged he is “very worried” about this outbreak, and that his department has been working with the province and the Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority to ensure a co-ordinated effort. Health Canada is mobilizing testing capacity, planning to ship personal protective equipment and sending in additional health professionals and medical officers.

As of April 30, there were 131 active cases of COVID-19 in a total of 23 Indigenous communities across Canada, and federal officials are working closely with First Nations leaders, provinces and territories to help slow the spread of the virus.

Some of these outbreaks have been traced to workplaces. This includes an outbreak of COVID-19 at a meat-packing plant in Alberta, which has been identified as the source of new cases in the nearby Stoney Nakoda First Nation, west of Calgary, Wong said.

Health officials are once again stressing the importance of physical distancing and handwashing, and will be watching closely over the next two weeks in the hopes they see the current rise in cases on First Nations begin to curve downward, Wong said.

“What we are hoping to not see is an exponential increase. What we are hoping to see is a flattening of the curve,” he said.

Meanwhile, Miller says the $15 million in COVID-19 emergency funding earmarked to help organizations that service Indigenous urban populations is not “not enough.”

Miller told the committee Friday his department received far more applications to this fund than the 94 proposals that have been approved.

He is now working to secure additional funds to help the vulnerable populations that friendship centres and other urban Indigenous organizations work to support every day.

“I will acknowledge that it is not enough and we are working more to serve these people in very vulnerable situations, and that’s work we will continue to do,” Miller said.

Last month, the National Association of Friendship Centres said their facilities across the country have been on the front lines of the crisis and have been inundated with requests for help as their communities struggle to cope.

The centres have been struggling to function without additional funds from the federal government as they work to meet an increased demand in services, the association said.

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press, published May 1, 2020.

[SOURCE]

Indigenous leaders call for pipeline shutdown over COVID-19 fears

As construction continues on the controversial, billion-dollar Coastal Gaslink pipeline in northern British Columbia, Indigenous communities living near the route fear that out-of-town workers could spread COVID-19 to the resource-strapped region.

First Nations leaders, many of whom supported the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs’ opposition to the project, are now calling on the federal and provincial governments to shut down the construction. In an open letter, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs said the ongoing construction heightens the risk of transmission and puts both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities at risk.

“The risks posed by continued work on the Coastal GasLink project are ones that were not consented to, and ones that leaders and officials raised warnings about in advance of the project’s approval,” the group said in its letter.

Like most provinces, B.C has deemed construction projects an essential service. Provincial Medical Health Officer Bonnie Henry has said it isn’t safe or practical to shut down ongoing construction projects.

Coastal Gaslink has camps dotted across northern British Columbia to accommodate its workforce, which is projected to reach 2,500 workers once the project reaches its peak construction period.

These days, roughly 100 workers remain on the job, Coastal Gaslink said, down from about 1,000 before the coronavirus pandemic. To help prevent the spread of the virus, common areas are now restricted and the company said it is disinfecting equipment.

The company says local residents and contractors are being hired and that new employees won’t be moving in to the company’s accommodations. On-site medics are monitoring workers’ health using both temperature checks and health questionnaires. Workers must keep a distance of at least two metres from each other in the dining room and common areas, and each worker has their own bedroom and bathroom.

But Indigenous leaders say those measures don’t go far enough. Many of the workers come from out of town and live in close quarters at construction camps, and there are fears that they could spark an outbreak.

Speaking on behalf of the union, Chief Judy Wilson said the construction camps should not be allowed to stay open in the middle of a pandemic.

“If Trudeau is saying lock down self-isolate, all those things are important, why are the industrial resource camps not heeding those precautions?” Wilson told CTV News.

“This is serious. It needs to be shut down.”

In a separate open letter, the union has also called on the government to reduce fossil fuel production and exports, invest in renewable energy and not use emergency relief money to bail out the struggling oil and gas sector.

The issue comes down to limited healthcare resources, says Jennifer Wickham, a representative of the Gidimt’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en Nation.

“In the north, we have really limited medical services as it is. So if anything were to happen, it would just overwhelm the limited services that we already have,” she said.

Across Canada, concerns have been raised about overloading rural and northern hospitals with unnecessary visitors. In British Columbia, authorities have asked residents to only travel when necessary.

While many businesses have been forced to close during the pandemic, construction and energy-related projects continue across Canada, including in OntarioAlberta and Quebec, where they are deemed essential services.

Earlier this year, the Coastal Gaslink pipeline was at the centre of a national controversy after rail blockades were established across the country in solitary with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, who opposed the pipeline being built on their land. The blockades triggered mass layoffs and prompted high-level meetings between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s senior ministers and Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.

Saskatchewan chief saddened by lack of help to stop suicides

Chief Ron Mitsuing of the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation voices his concerns about a suicide crisis in his community at the Legislative Building in Regina on Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019. Photo by The Canadian Press/Mark Taylor

The chief of a northern Saskatchewan First Nation says he is disappointed at the lack of long-term help from the provincial and federal governments to deal with what he says is a suicide crisis.

Ronald Mitsuing of the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation, along with another band leader, met in Regina on Wednesday with ministers and the deputy premier.

The leaders are concerned about what they are calling “cluster suicides” in their community of Loon Lake, about 360 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon.

They say there have been three suicides, including one by a 10-year-old girl, in three weeks and eight suicide attempts, mostly by young people.

Mitsuing said he asked Premier Scott Moe and officials for help now, as well as for a long-term suicide prevention strategy to help all First Nations.

“Things are happening now. They can’t wait anymore,” he said.

“Kids are losing their lives and, if they keep waiting, it’s going to happen again.”

Mitsuing said Saskatchewan Health Authority officials sent to help his community will eventually leave and temporary assistance isn’t enough to prevent future deaths.

He wants community members to be trained on how to spot signs of suicidal thoughts and on how to properly respond.

“Right now our teachers are also burning out over there. They’re stressed. Our whole community, front-line workers, are stressed.”

Rural and Remote Health Minister Warren Kaeding said the first step was to provide immediate help, which has been done, and then to plan for any medium- and long-term solutions.

“It’s a little early in the juncture to determine what those services are, but that’s something that’s going to be community-led, and we’ll certainly have those conversations with officials,” he said.

The Ministry of Health is reviewing its services and looking at what is offered elsewhere in Canada.

The Opposition NDP has put forward a private member’s bill that would create a suicide prevention strategy. Its leader says the Saskatchewan Party government has failed to act on reducing poverty and developing economic opportunities in the north.

“Nothing that we’ve seen from them so far indicates that they actually take this seriously which … causes me to wonder whether this is something they care about,” said Ryan Meili.

Band CEO Barry Mitsuing Chalifoux said an ongoing strategy would better help prevent suicide crises and give local governments ideas on what resources could be of help in their communities.

He said federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller called last week to offer his condolences. Chalifoux said he understands work is being done by federal officials to see what support may be coming and he believes they will respond.

“I’m just hoping they do that soon,” Chalifoux said.

The First Nation wants parenting programs and funding to hire additional supports in order to monitor its youth, he said.

In the fall of 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called several suicides by children in northern Saskatour girls between the ages of 10 and 14 had taken their own lives over a short period of time.

“We continue to be committed to working with Indigenous communities across the country to deal with this ever-occurring tragedy,” he said at the time.

Earlier that year, a string of suicide attempts in Attawapiskat in northern Ontario garnered international media attention when the Cree community declared a state of emergency.

By The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 27, 2019.

[SOURCE]

Costa Rican Indigenous land rights activist assassinated by gunmen

Sergio Rojas indigenous land activist is pictured during a interview in Salitre, Buenos Aires de Puntarenas, Costa Rica, October 2, 2015. Courtesy of La Nacion via REUTERS

A well-known Costa Rican indigenous land rights activist was gunned down on Monday night.

Sergio Rojas was at his home in the indigenous territory of Salitre, about 200 km (124 miles) south of the capital, San Jose, when the attack happened late on Monday, the office of President Carlos Alvarado said, calling the killing “regrettable.”

According to a press release, Rojas was assassinated by armed gunmen who shot him as many as 15 times at around 9:15 pm in his home in Yeri. It appears the armed assailant entered the back of Sergio’s home. Neighbors called 911. Over an hour later police arrived. Eventually members of the Red Cross entered and confirmed that he died of multiple gunshot wounds.

The Tico Times reports, an investigation into the murder has been initiated, led by the country’s Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) in collaboration with National Police. 

Alvarado said he has asked the Public Security Ministry (MSP) to provide all necessary support to OIJ to aid the investigation.

MSP officers maintain a presence at the location of Sergio Rojas’s apparent murder. (Via Casa Presidencial. )

Rojas was President of the Association for the Development of the Indigenous Territory of Salitre and coordinator of the National Front of Indigenous Peoples (FRENAP) in Costa Rica and was a staunch defender of the Bribri of Saltire Indigenous people who have been fighting for years to regain their rights to over 12,000 hectares of land in southern Costa Rica pledged to them by a 1938 government agreement, according to a 2014 teleSUR report.

In 2012, Rojas was shot at six times in an apparent assassination attempt near the reserve but escaped the shooting unscathed.

Reuters reports, in 2015, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered the government to provide Bribri and Teribe people with protection, arguing they were at risk because of actions taken to recover their lands.

Costa Rica has 24 indigenous territories inhabited by eight ethnic groups, with occupation and encroachment on their land by ranchers causing conflict since the 1960s.

Farmers, angered in a land dispute, burned down the home of an indigenous family in Salitre, a Bribrí indigenous reserve in south-central Costa Rica, July 5, 2014. (The Tico Times)

“He [Rojas] made a lot of enemies over the years,” said Sonia Suárez, a schoolteacher in Salitre.

In a statement, Costa Rica’s ombudsman said Rojas had requested further police protection on Friday after he and other members of his organization said they were shot at in connection with their “recovery” of a farm on Bribri land.

The Central American country has for years struggled to mediate land-right disputes between indigenous and non-indigenous people.

Costa Rica’s 1977 Indigenous Law prohibits the sale of indigenous lands, but is not clear on what to do in cases where land within reserves was already farmed by outsiders.