Pelican Narrows peacekeepers graduate amidst high tensions between First Nations and justice system
- Chelsea Laskowski | March 11, 2018
The northeastern community of Pelican Narrows is celebrating the graduation of eight residents who have completed peacekeeper training.
A graduation ceremony was held on Feb. 22 to help usher the graduates into their new one-year contract positions, which are meant to help keep community members safe and deal with issues of crime and violence.
“It feels very good because you see these youth, really is what they are, and you see all the smiles and you know the achievement they made and how good they feel,” said Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation Vice-Chief Harold Linklater, who lives in Pelican Narrows.
Linklater championed the program, which was adapted from the Onion Lake Peacekeepers and included training in emergency response, defensive training, and response to domestic violence. The RCMP helped deliver some of the lessons.
Less than a week after peacekeeper graduation, a video surfaced online showing RCMP members in Pelican Narrows engaged in a heated and profanity-laden encounter with community members. One officer asked a woman “do you want to get shot?” during the exchange. The RCMP have since assured Linklater that they are looking into what happened that day.
“When a peace officer is supposed to keep the peace and good order and something like this happens, it’s very, very disturbing,” he said.
Linklater said the incident highlights how an RCMP response is different from peacekeepers response. Peacekeepers are local residents helping respond to disturbances, and have the ability to keep people calm in a different way than officers do.
“They would be able to talk to them a little bit more whether it’s in their own language, the Cree language, just to tell people to try to behave and be a little bit more respectful too I suppose,” Linklater said.
Tension between law enforcement and the community has been particularly high lately in Pelican Narrows following the Gerald Stanley and Raymond Cormier acquittals in the deaths of Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine. In the middle of the month, the community held a “Justice for Colten” walk to stand against the unfair labels and judging both Boushie and Pelican Narrows face, saying it is not them who are dangerous but the racism against them that is dangerous.
“The youth, they feel very vulnerable and they feel for their safety,” Linklater said.
With the recent RCMP exchange in mind, he said Mounties need to be more aware of the high tensions and fear community members are feeling, and that officers need sensitivity training towards Indigenous people.
Linklater is still pushing for more government funding to make a First Nation-run police service possible in Pelican Narrows. He said the recent RCMP incident should serve as a reminder of why it’s a good idea to have their own policing.