An agreement has been signed to investigate new community-driven ways to deliver police services.
Federal Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino, Saskatchewan Minister of Public Safety Christine Tell, and Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte announced the agreement and the collaboration between the organizations on Monday.
An implementation plan is on the way for the 12 member First Nations and 28 communities aiming to improve public safety.
The PAGC Public Safety Implementation Team will engage with residents this winter, and the findings will help in developing a feasibility study.
“Advancing Indigenous-led approaches to public safety is a cornerstone of reconciliation. Today’s announcement of the creation of the PAGC Public Safety Implementation Team will do just that, allowing its 28 communities to make a plan tailored to their specific needs. I look forward to seeing the difference it makes in communities across Northern Saskatchewan,” Mendicino said.
“We need to create the space to empower you to keep your community safe. That’s what signing this letter of intent is all about today.”
Mendicino said he visited James Smith Cree Nation and saw grief, but also perseverance, strength, and pride in their culture.
He noted a sign on the First Nation that said Hope, which had the signatures of the members of the First Nation within the letters.
“It’s going to take hope, but it’s also going to take hard work if we’re going to break the cycle.”
“Healing has to be done through prevention, which means we have to look at those root causes that you know well, the challenges with substance and violence and organized crimes,” Mendicino added.
He said he wants to table the legislation that recognizes Indigenous policing as an essential service, calling the situation urgent.
Minister Tell said the tragic events at James Smith Cree Nation highlighted the need for Indigenous policing.
“The Government of Saskatchewan is committed to ensuring safe communities across the province and is pleased to partner with the Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) on this important initiative,” Tell said.
Tell said the implementation team is the first step in addressing policing for First Nations communities.
Hardlotte noted that this document will help make their community safe, but pointed out several concerns.
“We do have immediate challenges in public safety, community safety. And what is that? We have outdated CTA’s,” Hardlotte said.
He said the community tripartite agreements need to be worked on, and First Nations bylaws and band council resolutions need to be honoured and enforced by the RCMP.
“We have many RCMP detachments in our communities. But we have communities that don’t have detachments. That’s an immediate concern that we need to work on.”
Hardlotte noted that these changes can only be achieved if they work together.
Chief Wally Burns from James Smith Cree Nation spoke at the event, saying that Mendicino had discussions with them finding solutions, learning to cope, and helping the membership heal.
“This morning it was very hard. A lot of them broke down. And to me this shouldn’t have happened to anyone, or any nation,” Burns said.
He noted that they’ll be having discussions with Siksika Nation in Calgary about Indigenous policing.
Vice Chief with the PAGC, Joseph Tsannie said that this was a huge undertaking, adding that they’ve been working towards this since 2018.
“There is no one model, we have 28 communities and we have unique challenges with each our First Nations communities,” Tsannie said.
Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron also spoke, saying that this initiative is community safety driven by the community.
“You want alcohol and drugs banned on your First Nation, that’s what this is working towards. You want drug dealers banned and charged from your First Nation, and in some cases, even evicted and banned, that’s what this is working towards,” Cameron said.