Indigenous Women's Commission to advise P.A. Police
- Chelsea Laskowski | August 24, 2017
Velma Buffalo knows where her distrust of police officers was formed.
She was a youth living on Wahpeton Dakota Nation when RCMP officers showed up at her home.
“They threatened my mother to take us away whether she wanted it or not. The school-aged children were going to be brought to residential school. The children under school age were going to be apprehended and put into homes. And they said that my mother was going to be incarcerated,” Buffalo recalls.
That first impression was hard to shake, and it bred a distrust and fear of police that grew deeper later in life when she was stopped and ticketed by police in Saskatoon on two separate occasions for “no reason, because the judge tossed out the tickets that I received.”
The many barriers to Indigenous women’s trust of police in the province are documented in a June report released by the Human Rights Watch. The report contains allegations of police abuses from the across the province, perpetrated against Indigenous women and girls.
Within Prince Albert specifically, Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Vice-Chief Kim Jonathan points out “this is the prison city. People that may not have had positive experiences or things to say about the police – I mean that’s who put them in the jails or the penitentiary.”
However, both she and Buffalo, who is Jonathan’s mother, have faith that city police are listening to their concerns and trying to improve relations. Both women, along more than a dozen Indigenous female community leaders from the region, attended a late July meeting at Prince Albert’s friendship centre to create an advisory board called the Indigenous Women’s Commission of the Prince Albert Police Service.
Police Chief Troy Cooper initiated the meeting as part of his response to the Human Rights Watch report.
“In policing, every day when we come to work the issues we deal with on the forefront are all around Indigenous women. The Indigenous women missing and murdered, we talk about domestic violence, recruitment issues; there are so many things every day that involve that group and yet we haven’t gone to them and asked their opinion on it and gotten their advice,” he said.
Cooper calls the aftermath of the first meeting “overwhelmingly powerful.”
“They shared their own experiences, both with police and with justice-related issues. It was an incredible day and I’m really glad that we started on this road. These are women telling you from there heart what their experiences have been.”
Muskoday First Nation’s Angie Bear and other women who attended the meeting said they appreciated how cultural protocol was followed. Not only was there a presentation of tobacco and sacred honouring, but women were also given the floor as the only two men present -- Cooper and one of his missing persons investigators -- listened to their stories.
“Traditionally our women were the matriarchs. We were the ones that when there was problems in our community, traditionally our women would come to the table and we would gather and we would discuss what needed to happen,” Bear said.
“It’s really good to go back to that way of doing things in that way. It’s really important because then we can address all of the trauma people have been through, the reconciliation that needs to happen.”
The importance of following Indigenous protocol to make meaningful changes between cultures has been in the spotlight lately. Early in June, Saskatoon-based Marilyn Poitras with the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls National Inquiry resigned from her position as commissioner, citing issues with what she considers a top-down approach that doesn’t properly integrate Indigenous ways of knowing and healing.
With the initial meeting of the Indigenous Women’s Commission now complete, the group is planning to get together in September to finalize their terms of reference and to officially declare an oath to the commission.