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Indigeneous groups focus on Sask. First Nation policing after stabbing inquest

Click to play video: 'FSIN calls federal government to table to fulfill community policing promises'
FSIN calls federal government to table to fulfill community policing promises
WATCH: Assembly of First Nations National Chief Cindy Woodhouse said on Thursday, "We have to get back to the table and have those hard discussions and the federal minister needs to listen to our leaders and we'll be pushing that next week." – Feb 1, 2024

James Smith Cree Nation and Indigenous leadership said on Thursday that their focus is set on self-administered policing after hearing that it took RCMP 22 minutes to reach the community when tragedy struck in 2022.

“The James Smith Cree Nation tragedy is a prime example of how the lack of local First Nations police and justice services added to the vulnerabilities of First Nations,” said AFN national chief Cindy Woodhouse.

The conference came one day after the closing of a provincial coroner’s inquest into the 11 deaths on James Smith Cree Nation and in Weldon, Sask., in 2022.

Click to play video: 'Families seek change for James Smith Cree Nation'
Families seek change for James Smith Cree Nation

For two and a half weeks, the inquest heard testimony from RCMP explaining how Myles Sanderson stabbed his way through the communities, killing 11 and injuring 17 after being released from the Saskatchewan Penitentiary.

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Woodhouse called the killings a “systemic failure” by the police and justice system.

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“If First Nations police services had been equitably funded in the James Smith Cree Nation, this tragedy could have been avoided,” Woodhouse said.

Twenty-nine recommendations from a jury and the presiding coroner followed, including more collaboration between James Smith Cree Nation and RCMP and the timely implementation of a First Nations police force.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised his government would bring forward a new First Nations policing law in 2020 but Woodhouse said the legislation remains stalled.

“What happened was preventable if there was resources in place, if there was supports in place,” said FSIN vice-chief Aly Bear. “There’s no transition homes. There’s no access to culture.”

Saskatchewan RCMP Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore said the organization is committed to improving relationships with James Smith Cree Nation and addressing the recommendations from the inquest.

“Our mandate was to protect First Nations people and that is a very important mandate for us and we are very much determined to do better than some of the black marks that we have in our history in the past related to residential schools,” Blackmore said.

RCMP has been working to recruit Indigenous people in Saskatchewan to policing. Blackmore hopes that by the spring, an all-Indigenous group will be progressing through the training academy.

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The inquest provided recommendations for James Smith Cree Nation leadership as well, including a full evaluation of the current programs offered on the First Nation, stressing there should be a more intense focus on addictions, substance abuse and domestic violence.

Leadership was recommended to meet regularly with the Melfort RMCP detachment to discuss public safety, drug, and violence issues after hearing through testimony that approximately 20 per cent of service calls to the detachment are related to the First Nation.

The chiefs said they will be consulting band members before making any decisions.

In the meantime, band member Chelsey Stonestand said the community needs quicker response times from the RCMP.

“It’s not comparable,” Stonestand said. “You call within a city, you get a response time within two minutes.”

— with files from The Canadian Press

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