Leaders in Witchekan Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan held a ceremony to honour Mounties with the Spiritwood RCMP detachment for conducting a raid where drugs and weapons were seized.
On March 6, officers with the detachment arrested four men, seized seven firearms, three prohibited weapons, and nearly 200 grams of illegal drugs, including meth and crack cocaine.
Witchekan Lake Chief Annie Thomas addressed the ceremony and spoke of her personal battle with alcohol.
She also acknowledged two of the men charged are her in-laws.
“Do I condone it? Of course not, because I’d rather support healing. Am I involving myself? Of course not, because again, I’d rather support healing. Tapwewin… speaking the truth, I’ve been there done that,” she said.
A First Nation honouring a local RCMP detachment doesn’t happen very often.
Treaty Commissioner Mary Culbertson, who was asked to speak at the ceremony, addressed the difficult relationship between the RCMP and Indigenous Peoples.
Culbertson said the Spiritwood officers were doing their job as outlined in the Treaties which is to protect First Nations.
“Gangs and drug dealers overrun leadership and the RCMP does little and next to nothing in some places to help our communities defend themselves,” she said.
Culbertson said drug problems are rampant on many First Nations, including her home community of Keeseekoose near Kamsack, 270 km northeast of Regina.
And it helps when police are there to cooperate.
“When you have a community that’s trying to heal and you have an RCMP detachment and officers being kind, doing their jobs and working with this community, to enforce what they may not know is a treaty right, that’s what they’re supposed to do,” she said.
One of the Chiefs who was asked to attend but declined was Clint Wuttanee, Chief of the Red Pheasant First Nation.
Red Pheasant was the home of Colten Boushie, a young Cree man who was shot and killed by a farmer who was later acquitted. The RCMP were heavily criticized for how its officers handled the evidence – and how they treated Boushie’s mother after he was killed.
More recently, Wuttanee was critical of the RCMP after an early March shooting left a 21-year-old man dead on the Battlefords area reserve.
“Instead of providing preventative services and support when gang and drug-related issues are raised with RCMP directly, the RCMP hesitantly becomes involved only when serious and often life-threatening issues arise,” Wuttunee said.
“RCMP involvement in our community is always reactive in nature. We are unable to rely on the assistance from the RCMP as a positive resource to help keep our community safe. Earlier and proactive involvement by RCMP could have prevented this unnecessary death.”
The RCMP’s assistant commissioner for Saskatchewan, Rhonda Blackmore, says the police are committed to working with First Nations leaders in fighting the drug problems they face.
“We want these types of investigations and resulting seizures to send a message: we will investigate, we will continue to disrupt and we will dismantle illegal activity in Saskatchewan,” she said.
“We will not tolerate illegal trafficking of guns and drugs on First Nations or any community in Saskatchewan.”
Witchekan Lake First Nation is located 90 km northeast of North Battleford.