Dene Nation and RCMP piloting program to combat systemic racism in policing

Dene Nation Chief Norman Yakelaya marching ahead of the crowd. (Photo by Bailey Moreton/MyTrueNorthNow.com.)
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The Dene Nation is working with the RCMP to develop a pilot program to help combat systemic racism in policing.

The program was developed by Unstoppable Conversations, a communications training company and is based on post-Apartheid South Africa and Northern Ireland. 

In Canada, the Coburg Police Department is also working on elements of the program. 

Ten RCMP employees and 10 Indigenous leaders will participate in workshops.

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“There is no time to waste on activating transformational change within Canadian policing by breaking down the walls of systemic racism. For far too long, our people have been held down by the unequal application of the Canadian justice system, which has contributed to an ongoing cycle of intergenerational pain and trauma,” said Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya. 

“Indigenous peoples are ready to move beyond platitudes that denounce racism and move towards tangible, clear and implementable action that transforms policing and justice systems,” he added.

The RCMP’s Commanding Officer, C/ Supt. J. Zettler says RCMP officers in the NWT have “developed an awareness” of reconciliation, systemic racism, intergenerational trauma and cultural awareness with our communities, and now needs to “operationalize” this awareness.

“This will look very different in five or ten years as it evolves and continually changes as we learn from our communities what has worked and what has not,” said Zettler in a statement.

“Some things will not meet our expected results, while others may exceed them.”

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“The most important aspect will be that we continue our open bilateral dialogue with the communities as we grow this important relationship,” he added.

Other programs working towards changing policing in the territory were included in the GNWT’s 2021-22 budget. 

Around $300,000 will be spent for the Department of Justice to create a Community Safety Officer (CSO) Pilot Program to “explore alternative approaches to community safety outside of police enforcement,” according to Ngan Trinh, spokesperson for the justice department.

While the details of the program are still being finalized, the program will take a “proactive, sustainable, trauma-informed, holistic” approach to community safety and policing.

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“There has been a gap between the perceived role of what services police should provide, and what the RCMP is actually, contractually obligated and operationally funded to provide,” Trinh said in an email.

During budget deliberations, Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek said the program would have a “meaningful impact on that community on the way that that policing works.”

Wawzonek called the pilot “fairly innovative” and pointed to the Kwanlin Dün First Nation as having success.

The budget also included money for three more RCMP constables, seemingly flying in the face of the “Defund the Police” movement. But this is not the case, says Wawzonek.

“There’s been a need for more constables, I think for quite a while,” said Wawzonek. “I don’t think that was necessarily a new ask or something newly identified, so it’s not meant to be a part of a signal in one direction or another as necessarily philosophical.”

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