He said it would have helped prevent the stabbing attacks on the Labour Day weekend, which left 10 people dead and 18 injured.
“Tribal policing, we need that,” he said. “The response time was way too late.”
Indigenous leaders, like the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) and the Saskatoon Tribal Council (STC) in Saskatchewan, have long called for Indigenous police services to improve safety, partly because RCMP typically don’t have outposts near band territory and partly to improve a band’s self-governance.
Federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino had already met with the FSIN and STC in July, and with other Indigenous communities across Canada over the summer.
On Tuesday he recommitted to the project, telling reporters in Ottawa that Indigenous police services “can’t come fast enough,” though he demurred when asked if he would commit to tabling a bill in the fall parliamentary session.
“We have to make sure we get this work right,” Mendicino said.
“It’s important work and it has to be anchored in relationship with Indigenous communities that is rooted in trust.”
In the interim, the minister said the government will work with communities to stabilize and enhance their capacity around resources and support for policing programs. Then, the government will work to move support from program, which need to be renewed, to permanent.
He also said the government will work to deem Indigenous policing an essential service, which would place it alongside other emergency services.
Hilary Peterson, a lawyer and a University of Saskatchewan College of Law lecturer, said she welcomed the change.
But she noted Indigenous people are overrepresented at all levels of the justice system — which she said amounted to the justice system’s failure.
And a change in policing, she added, won’t help that.
“When it gets to the point where people and communities are needing policing, we’ve already allowed crime to have taken place. We’ve already allowed dysfunction to take place,” she said.
Peterson, who teaches classes on Indigenous people’s interactions with the justice system, said funding for addictions treatment, more housing and counselling for intergenerational trauma must accompany a change of police.
And she said the changing of the guard must take place alongside an admission of why the guard needs to be changed.
“Colonialism and systemic discrimination has led us to the point where we are today,” she said.
Developing a system for Indigenous-led policing requires consultation with the communities, she said. That means determining whether the police work for individual bands or for tribal councils across a broader area.
It would also mean determining whether the police services are self-administered or whether they work in conjunction with RCMP or other pre-existing law enforcement agencies.
The strength of the former, Peterson said, would be to have community members held accountable to other members who know the community and understand the challenges it faces.
The weakness would be creating a new police force and all the challenges around training, recruitment and gaining experience that would entail.
The strength of the latter would entail drawing on an experienced police service. The weakness would be involving law enforcement agencies that likely have a history of discriminatory behaviour towards Indigenous people.
Peterson said funding for any model would come from the federal and provincial governments.
Chief Burns said he has meetings planned with federal ministers about housing and mental health.
“I’m looking forward and helping the process on how we can heal at the same time and bring the resources back to the community,” he said.