The federal public safety minister says he is travelling next week to James Smith Cree Nation in Treaty 4 Territory (Saskatchewan), where 11 people were killed in a mass stabbing, to advance the government’s plan to have First Nations policing recognized as an essential service.
Marco Mendicino said he has spoken with his provincial counterpart, Christine Tell, as well as Indigenous leaders about the issue, as the community continues to deal with “unspeakable grief.”
“This is a heartbreaking reminder of the work we must do together … to take the steps that are necessary so this type of tragedy never happens again,” Mendicino said Friday in Halifax.
“Policing by Indigenous Peoples for Indigenous Peoples is a key part to reconciliation,” Mendicino said.
The stabbing massacre happened last month in James Smith and in the nearby village of Weldon, northeast of Saskatoon.
Eighteen people were also injured and a suspect in the attacks later died in police custody.
James Smith Chief Wally Burns has been lobbying the federal government for the First Nation to have its own police service, a healing lodge and more support for mental health and addictions.
Ottawa has said it would introduce a bill this fall to ensure First Nations can have their own police officers.
On Wednesday, federal Justice Minister David Lamettti said that he was moved by a presentation Burns gave at a meeting of first minister, territorial and Indigenous leaders and that Ottawa is taking action – including putting $43 million towards co-developing Indigenous police forces across the country and making them an essential service.
“We are moving as a government to recognize Indigenous policing as an essential service and putting the mechanisms in place to make that a reality so to do more than say it’s an essential service,” he said.
Saskatchewan RCMP has also said they support First Nations having their own police service and will look for ways to collaborate with them.
“When it comes to resources, First Nations have made it clear that the way forward for their people … in this province is self-administered policing,” Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmoresaid earlier in an interview with The Canadian Press.
“We fully support them as they move to that.”
Blackmore said the RCMP would be willing to offer First Nations specialized support, like helping with cybercrimes. There could also be opportunities to share officers from the RCMP’s Indigenous recruiting unit.
“Police need to be representative of the people we police, and we have a large Indigenous population in this province,” Blackmore said.
“Instead of trying to recruit First Nations people who have no policing background, we can offer them individuals from their own community who can have that policing experience, that can be a success to their own self-administered policing.”
Policing rural areas remains a big challenge for the RCMP in Saskatchewan.
“You simply can’t cover as much areas as you could in a municipal area, where you have a large concentration of residents in a small area,” Blackmore said. “You always have that time to get to a call. That travel time.”
Leaders on James Smith Cree Nation have said it took officers too long to arrive on Sept. 4.
RCMP said they received the first 911 call about a stabbing on the First Nation at 5:40 a.m. In the following minutes, they received more calls about multiple stabbings at different locations on the First Nation.
Blackmore said it took officers 40 minutes to get there, as the closest detachment is 40 kilometres away. RCMP alerted the public about the stabbings about 80 minutes after the first call.
Mendicino said any new plan to help First Nations have self-administered policing would need to be sustainable for the long term.
“That’s why we have committed to co-developing, with Indigenous and Inuit communities across the country, legislation that recognizes that Indigenous policing is an essential service,” Mendicino said.
“Communities who are ready to take the step of creating their own police service and have a plan should be met with a partner in the federal government, and that’s our commitment.”