Earlier that day, Mendicino was at James Smith Cree Nation, the site of the fatal stabbings that claimed the lives of 10 people in the community and nearby Weldon. Mendicino met with Chief Wally Burns, Chief Robert Head and Chief Calvin Sanderson as well as the families of the victims.
“It’s a community that remains awash with grief, trauma and loss, but there’s also perseverance and real strength and that’s something I saw this morning,” Mendicino said.
In addition to hearing stories from community members, Mendicino also spoke about the federal government’s new initiative that would designate First Nations policing as an essential service.
Many communities in Canada have a tribal police force with the Siksika Nation near Calgary announcing the creation of a self-administered police service for the community last month.
The Siksika force would join Tsuu T’ina, Lakeshore and Blood Tribe as the other First Nations administer policing in Alberta.
According to the Federal Public Safety website, there are currently 35 First Nations police services in Canada and one Inuit police service, serving 155 First Nations and Inuit communities. They are located primarily in Ontario and Quebec, with a lesser presence in all western Canadian provinces. Saskatchewan has one First Nations police service: the File Hills Police Service in Balcarres.
These services are funded under the First Nations and Inuit Policing Program, established in 1991.
Many RCMP detachments serve First Nations communities, but some are not in the community themselves.
Peter Chapman First Nation Chief Robert Head said that although the RCMP responded as quickly as they could on September 4, the day of the massacre, they still had to travel about 40 minutes to get to James Smith.
“If we had our own First Nations police, we could have resolved the situation in minutes.
Head also mentioned that new public safety legislation should also look at the future of infrastructure. He pointed to the lack of space in many communities for people to come together to mourn and heal from any kind of tragedy.
“Healing for First Nations people is a long-term process, we can’t do it overnight, we can’t heal in a week or a month or a year,” he said. “We have a whole cycle of healing to tackle, we need help. We need a place or a building where we can go and start the healing process.
This issue was also raised when the Governor General of Canada visited the community last month.
Mendicino spoke about infrastructure needs after the letter of intent was signed, saying the government can do better. He said he learned that a wake-up service would be held on Monday for a member of the James Smith Cree Nation. However, without a proper building, the community school had to be closed to allow the wake to be held in the gymnasium.
“I think we can and should do better,” he said.
The infrastructure will only be part of the letter of intent signed on Monday, as the first step will be to create a public safety team that will hear the specific needs of each PAGC member country.
Deputy Chief Joseph Tsannie of the PAGC said that while police forces like the one of the future in Siksika will help inspire other police forces, there is no “one size fits all” approach.
“We have 28 communities and we have unique challenges with each of our First Nations communities. We must adapt to the needs of our communities.
Tsannie noted that the PAGC has been working on the possibility of introducing policing since 2018, when they signed a resolution to review community policing for 12 of their First Nations. He added the events to James Smith’s Cree Nation, brought that initiative back to the fore.
“It’s unfortunate things happen, but it certainly opened up a lot of positive doors for our negotiations and to get us to where we are today, but the work is in progress.”
Federal legislation that could open the door to more First Nations police services does not have timelines or details regarding funding for these services.
Mendicino said he would like to see the legislation introduced as soon as possible, but warned that there needed to be a thorough and respectful dialogue with communities, which he said is already happening.
Although policing is the main purpose of the legislation, Mendicino said that’s not the only problem he hopes to solve.
“We must first look for ways to prevent the crime from happening,” he said. “That’s why making sure there’s also support for culturally appropriate training, healing lodges, rehabilitation, reducing recidivism, all of that has to happen simultaneously, even though we’re giving communities the means to create their own police services if they wish.
The bill stems from a series of public engagement sessions on First Nations policing that began March 21 with the final report released late last month. The main conclusions of the report were the desire to rework the funding framework for First Nations policing, to make the service essential for all communities and to determine the roles of the federal government, the provincial governments and the First Nations in making it a reality.
In Budget 2021, the federal Liberals pledged $43.7 million over five years to co-develop a legislative framework that recognizes First Nations policing as an essential service.