Saskatchewan settles quickly Indigenous policy agreement
PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. –
Federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said he had a “heavy and difficult visit” with the families of those killed in a mass stabbing in Saskatchewan before he signed an agreement to discover new ways to improve safety for some First Nations in the province.
Mendicino said Monday at the annual meeting of the Prince Albert Council that the focus of the work we are doing today is the foundation of reconciliation.
Eleven people were killed and 18 injured in a stabbing attack last month at the James Smith Cree Nation and in the nearby village of Weldon, northeast of Saskatoon.
Myles Sanderson, 32, the suspect in the attacks, later died in police custody.
Mendicino visited First Nation on Monday morning and said the grief is still palpable. But, he added, there’s also strength and perseverance.
“It will bring hope, but it will also have to be hard work if we break the cycle,” he said.
James Smith, Cree Country Chief Wally Burns echoed his earlier calls for Ottawa to help his community form its own police force. He said that finding solutions would be a step towards a cure.
“How are we supposed to deal with all this?” he asks. “How are we supposed to move together?”
The agreement between the general assembly, the Saskatchewan government and Ottawa creates a working partnership to devise community-driven ways to deliver police services.
Mendicino said the aim is to lay out the building blocks for creating self-governing police programs across the First Nations.
He did not say how long it would take to set the policy in the communities.
He expects it to take five to 10 years to produce. Communities, with the support of governments, will be up to them to choose how fast they move forward, he said.
“We have to be really prepared to work with communities,” Mendicino told The Canadian Press.
Christine Tell, Saskatchewan’s minister of public safety, says big changes happen in small steps. She said the recent tragedy at James Smith underscores the extent to which public safety in Indigenous communities requires effort from all levels of government.
First Nations leaders say these plans need to be tailored to each community.
Under the new agreement, a group will begin talking in early winter with residents of the first 12 countries and 28 communities of the large council. The results will be used to design and determine the cost of a feasibility study under the federal government’s First Nations and Inuit Policy Program.
That program, established in 1991, provides funding for Indigenous policy control, cost-sharing between the provinces and the federal government. It has been criticized for underfunding such services and for being inaccessible to nearly a third of first-country and Inuit communities.
There are 35 First Nations police agencies around the country, and one in Saskatchewan. The File Hills Police Department serves five First Nations communities in eastern Saskatchewan.
Mendicino is pushing for legislation that would declare Indigenous policy control an essential service. However, he backed away from his pledge to have it in the fall.
He said he wanted to introduce the law as soon as possible, but it also had to be at the pace of the community and go through a consultation process.
“We need to make sure that when the community calls for help, they get it – no matter where you live.”
This report by the Canadian Press was first published on October 17, 2022.
– By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Saskatoon