The Burns Lake detachment of the RCMP is planning a series of events this summer intended to improve relationships between the detachment and the six local First Nations communities.
“This is about being proactive rather than reactive,” explained staff sergeant Charlotte Peters with the Burns Lake RCMP.
The events planned include a “tea for elders,” a “bike rodeo,” a tour of the police detachment for First Nations youth, a presentation about the risks and alternatives to hitchhiking by a University of Northern British Columbia professor, and the “big canoe journey,” which involves taking First Nations youth on a 17-feet canoe journey along Burns Lake.
Efforts to improve relations with First Nations communities also involve a cultural awareness training for local officers. A speaker from Cheslatta Carrier Nation was invited to the detachment to educate officers about the history of Cheslatta and aspects of their culture.
Constable Christine Anderson, who’s responsible for policing the First Nations communities located on the Southside, believes this kind of cultural awareness helps officers be more effective at their jobs.
“A lot of the [police] newcomers don’t get to go to potlatches, and they don’t get to go to smudges, they don’t even know what a smudge is,” she explained. “It gets them involved in the cultural aspect of aboriginal communities.”
According to Anderson, one of the common misunderstandings between aboriginal people and police officers is that aboriginal males tend not to look at authoritative figures directly in the eye. Police officers that don’t have that cultural awareness might suspect that there’s a suspicious behaviour when there isn’t, she said.
“This is information that will help them become more efficient handling issues in these communities in a culturally sensitive way,” added staff sergeant Peters.
Burns Lake officers have also been making efforts to improve their communication with First Nations chiefs and councils.
“Every year we put something together called the ‘letter of expectation’ with each of the bands,” explained constable Deborah Goble, who’s responsible for policing the Lake Babine Nation communities. “In that letter of expectation, chief and council set up what they would like to have prioritized over those 12 months.”
Priorities include issues such as substance abuse, elders abuse, hitchhiking and youth engagement. Local officers then prepare a monthly report back to the chiefs informing them of the types of calls received by the RCMP in that particular month.
“We will look at the nature of the calls to see if it requires other policing strategies to make us more preventive and proactive,” said Goble.
“Reporting is a big component of what we do in relation to First Nations communities,” she added. “To me it’s about positive relationship building, and working with the community and what their specific needs are.”
Earlier this year, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP released a report that revealed a perception of RCMP bias against aboriginal people throughout northern B.C. The report made 45 findings and 31 recommendations aimed at enhancing RCMP transparency and accountability through improved policies, procedures and training, enhanced supervisory review, and better reporting.