ALBERTA – First Nations communities have been vocally opposed to the Alberta government’s proposition of establishing an Alberta Provincial Police Service (APPS) since the idea was first introduced in the fall of 2021.
Following the APPS proposal, First Nation chiefs from across Alberta have expressed that a provincial police force would not solve issues facing Indigenous Albertans.
Chiefs that have publicly echoed these sentiments include Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam, Frog Lake First Nation Chief Greg Desjarlais and now Cold Lake First Nation’s newly elected chief, Kelsey Jacko.
“We're looking at a self-administrative First Nations police force and we are just wondering what is going to happen with the RCMP right now and in the long-term,” CLFN Chief Jacko, told Lakeland This Week.
Most First Nations are patrolled by Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), while three First Nations have their own police forces in Alberta.
The Blood Tribe Police, Tsuut’ina First Nations and the Lakeshore Regional Police Service are Alberta’s only three standalone Indigenous police services. The three forces provide law enforcement service to seven First Nations.
The establishment of Indigenous governed police services on reserves is an approach many leaders have been calling for to address the specific needs of their communities.
Police model funding
The United Conservative Party (UCP) government has changed its approach when introducing communities to prospect of a provincial law enforcement concept following push-back from municipalities and First Nation communities alike.
Funding equity and government support are being touted for both Indigenous communities and Alberta municipalities that are being encouraged to pursue their own self-administered police services outside of the RCMP’s purview.
Alberta Justice Minister Tyler Shandro has said the overarching problem First Nations policing has seen is a lack of sustainable funding and government’s commitment to making such programs self-sufficient.
With proper investment and making sure funding is equitable, flexible and sustainable, Shandro has expressed that many issues in First Nations communities can be fixed.
On Sept. 6, Shandro announced a Community Policing Grant that will help to address just that. Both Indigenous and municipal communities can apply for “a one-time grant of up to $30,000 to develop a business case for their own self-administered police service or regional equivalent.”
The provincial grant formalizes funding the government has provided in the past and makes it more accessible to all Indigenous and municipal communities, according to information released by the Alberta government.
Eligible First Nations communities, Métis Settlements and municipalities that have already initiated the process of exploring a municipal police service or communities collaborating on a regional police service can still apply for the grant.
While many First Nations may be opposed to an Alberta police service, the prospect of reliable funding for Indigenous policing has been a long-awaited commitment hoped for by my First Nations leaders.
Expanding Indigenous policing
In northeastern Alberta, Cold Lake First Nation (CLFN) has already started the process of researching what it would take to develop their own on-reserve police service.
CLFN has contracted retired RCMP Staff Sgt. Scott Buchanan who spent much of his career in a leadership role at the Cold Lake RCMP Detachment.
Buchanan has been contracted by the Nation to compile a file on the potential of a self-administered police force, as well as to help promote strong lines of communication between the Cold Lake RCMP detachment and CLFN.
The number one purpose of Buchanan’s role is to look at improving safety and security in the community.
While improved public safety is the number one concern of CLFN's council, both they and many other leaders across Treaty 6 and 8 territories do not support the creation of an Alberta police service.
“Regardless of if (the province) is going to do this, they need some kind of support in order for them to operate on reserve, if they were going to move ahead. It’s no different now, the RCMP still need First Nations approval to be on reserves,” Jacko said.
A previous Alberta government program to address response times to rural crime in 2021, by means of the Rural Alberta Provincial Intergrated Defence (RAPID) program and personnel, was considered a flop by many after most Indigenous communities refused to permit Alberta Sheriffs and Fish and Wildlife Officers on reserve lands to carry out law enforcement or assist RCMP members.
Indigenous groups have no real leverage when it comes to the province and that is a main reason First Nations work with the federal government, explained Jacko. “Nation to nation. Not nation to province”
“We were here before the province (of) Alberta was made... We're a federal indemnity and we are sovereign people here in Cold Lake First Nation.”
CLFN’s council would like to see not only the creation of their own law enforcement services but the introduction of an Indigenous judicial system that can be administer within their community.
Jacko and his council will also be looking to the groundwork being laid by Alberta Provincial Courts Judge Ivan Ladouceur in the development of Healing and Wellness Courts in the province.
“It must be a priority,” said Jacko. “Most of my First Nation people are in the system. It's shocking.”
The incarceration numbers for Indigenous people are worsening year by year, according to a study released by Canada’s Department of Justice, leading to a staggering overrepresentation of Indigenous people in correctional systems.
“Indigenous inmates in federal institutions rose from 20 per cent of the total inmate population in 2008-2009 to 28 per cent in 2017-2018, even though Indigenous people represented only 4.1 per cent of the overall Canadian population,” states the 2018 study.
In all categories, the percentage of incarcerated Indigenous men, women, boys and girls between the age of 12 to 17, has been rising.
While Jacko acknowledges that First Nations need to work more efficiently with RCMP detachments, he said the best solution is to create their own police forces that understand and serve the community.
“We can, and do make our own laws on the reservation, but we have trouble enforcing them,” he said. "We would like our own police force, but funding is always an issue."
Jacko continued, “We're overrepresented in jail and in the court system. We're trying to move away from that and to have our own systems to take jurisdiction back, to have our own courts, (and) own police force amongst Treaty 6 Nations.”