First Nations force takes over Alberta non-Indigenous community policing

Tsuut’ina Nation Police Chief Keith Blake (left) with Tsuut’ina Nation Inspector Quinn Jacques (center) and Inspector Clint Healy (right) in Redwood Meadows on the Tsuut’ina Nation on January 5.Gavin John / The Globe and Mail

In one of the first such arrangements in the country, an Indigenous police force took over police from a small non-Indigenous town in Alberta – a move that leaders from both communities say could become a model for both for reconciliation and the rural police in the Province.

The Tsuut’ina Nation Police Department, known in Tsuut’ina language under the name of Tosguna, took over police in Redwood Meadows, a community 20 kilometers west of Calgary, from the RCMP in November.

The nation described the change as a reclaiming of its historic authority to oversee its traditional lands. According to Tosguna Police Chief Keith Blake, the arrangement could also give the local force a chance to demonstrate how First Nations can contribute to rural policing and how they could complement the Government of Alberta’s efforts to create its own provincial police force.

“We hope this serves as a model,” said Chef Blake. “There is pride in watching over traditional lands. “

Redwood Meadows, a townsite of 1,000 people, is within the boundaries of the Tsuut’ina Nation, on land leased by the nation, but operates as a partially independent municipality. It shares its administration with the Tsuut’ina council, but also has its own mayor and council.

The decision to transfer the police force from the RCMP to Tosguna came as part of lease negotiations between the nation and the city. At the end of 2020, Redwood Meadows finalized an agreement to lease the land from Tsuut’ina for an additional 75 years.

“After these lease talks, the relationship developed with the nation. So we looked at what else was possible, ”said Redwood Meadows Mayor Ed Perkins. “It begins with the recognition that we are on the traditional territory of the Tsuut’ina Nation.

Chief Blake said police forces have had discussions with Redwood Meadows City Council, the RCMP, Tsuut’ina Nation leaders and the provincial government. “We all felt it would be beneficial,” he said. “This is the first time this has been done, when a First Nations force is monitoring a non-Aboriginal community. “

Tosguna has been around for over 30 years. It started as a small operation that patrolled the country’s borders.

In 2004 he won full policing authority for the Tsuut’ina Nation, under section 5 of the Alberta Police Act, which governs the establishment of local police forces in the province. Tosguna now has 26 police officers, 65% of whom identify as indigenous. Another 85 percent of the force’s civilian personnel identify as indigenous.

Tsuut’ina has a lot to watch over his land. The nation is participating in the construction of a ring road that is part of a 100 kilometer east-west trade corridor around Calgary. It also manages one of the largest First Nations development projects in North America – a commercial, commercial and real estate development known as Taza, which spans 1,200 acres.

“We wanted to be able to patrol and take care of the nation, our property and our people,” said Emmet Crowchild, a Tsuut’ina Nation councilor.

Cultivating Tosguna was the vision of Mr Crowchild’s cousin, Councilor Vincent Crowchild, who died in January 2021, says Crowchild.

Mr. Perkins said expanding Tosguna’s jurisdiction to include Redwood Meadows will allow the townsite to facilitate reconciliation with Indigenous peoples by re-establishing First Nations policing on traditional lands. “It’s about going beyond land recognition – it’s about actions, not words,” he said.

In the past, policing of Indigenous communities in Canada was often imposed from outside. Indigenous peoples in Canada are even more likely to be incarcerated than members of other racial and ethnic groups.

This meant Tosguna had to take a community-centered approach to policing, Chief Blake said.

“It’s about building relationships and listening,” he said. “There is an unfortunate past when it comes to First Nations policing. We must understand the truth before we can begin reconciliation.

Tosguna took over the Redwood Meadows Police without any additional funding from other levels of government or the Redwood Meadows Council. The importance of policing the land outweighed the potential costs, said Chief Blake.

The nation hopes to receive additional provincial and federal funds in the future, which Chief Blake said would help rectify long-standing inequalities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous police forces in Canada.

Tosguna’s existing funding agreements with the provincial and federal governments are often annual, while non-Indigenous policing funding agreements are generally multi-year. Chief Blake said the annual funding model makes it difficult to plan for his police service. Its officers and staff are paid less and have lower pensions than other Canadian police officers. Nor do Tosguna’s agents have union or collective bargaining power.

Tosguna, like all members of the First Nations and Inuit Policing Program – a Public Safety Canada program that allows Indigenous communities to manage their own police forces or outsource policing services to provincial or federal governments – has not been designated an essential service under federal law, although that it be governed by the same regulations as other Canadian police services.

The federal government in December announced a $ 43.7 million plan to work with the Assembly of First Nations on legislation recognizing Indigenous policing as an essential service, which advocates say would give police services. First Nations police access to increased funding.

Leaders from Redwood Meadows and the Tsuut’ina Nation say they see the new policing arrangement as the next step in building a mutually respectful relationship.

“We are an example of what is possible,” Mr. Perkins said. “The relationship we have with Tsuut’ina is very unique and progressive. I am honored to be a part of it.

“Taking this is pretty huge for us,” Mr. Crowchild said. “We are very proud to do so. We are very proud of Tosguna and Chef Blake. It is very important to have this representation in the community.

“Reconciliation also has a lot to do with it. We weren’t trying to prove anything, but it makes perfect sense to have our police all over our community and on our land. It’s a huge opportunity to work hand in hand and try it out.

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