‘There to help’: Indigenous youth team up with RCMP to spark community change

RCMP host Indigenous youth leadership workshop
WATCH: Indigenous teenagers from across Canada are teaming up with their local RCMP officers to help tackle issues in their communities.

Despite never being told that alcohol and drugs are bad, Julieann Bakermoose knows how dangerous substance abuse can be.

“Growing up, it wasn’t easy living with people who thought that substance abuse was okay,” Bakermoose said. “Seeing them in that state, not in the right state of mind, it just kind of broke me.”

The 14-year-old from Lynn Lake, Man. is hoping to spark change among her family and community, which is why she’s participating in the RCMP Indigenous youth leadership workshop.

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The week-long program pairs 14 teenagers from across Canada with one of their local RCMP officers “to foster positive relationships between youth and police and to learn about youth crime and victimization,” according to youth program officer Jacob Abdel-Messih.

“This is a youth-led project and a police-supported one,” Abdel-Messih said. “(The youth) come in as the leaders, they go back into their communities as peer leaders.”

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The workshop, which is in its 10th year, helps teens identify challenges in their community, brainstorm solutions and then implement those ideas when they return home.

“In the end, youth are almost always facing the same issues, the same things that they’d like the address,” Abdel-Messih said. “There is a lot of uniformity in the topics they are bringing up.”

Like many Indigenous communities across the prairies, residents in Lynn Lake struggle with substance abuse. It’s a problem that’s trickling down to the youth.

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“The school has very, very low attendance. They’d rather go drink alcohol or have some drugs than attend school at this point,” said Lynn Lake RCMP constable Caleb Weir. “It also increases the violence in the community within the youth.”

Weir said substance abuse often leads to high depression rates among teens in the community. But the workshop has opened his eyes to different supports that are available.

“Being able to talk to youth, and especially Julieann who I brought from the community, really helps give ideas on what the RCMP, what other organizations can do to make a difference,” Weir said.

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After the workshop, Bakermoose said she plans to start after-school programs, support groups and school presentations in Lynn Lake to show her peers there is more to life than alcohol and drugs.

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Lynn Lake RCMP will help support the implementation.

“That’s something that made me realize that (RCMP officers) aren’t the bad people and they’re the good people and they’re there to help,” Bakermoose said.