A first for First Nations

The first RCMP detachment designed, financed and built by a First Nation in Canada was proudly unveiled Friday morning.

Stating that it was an historic day for the people of Hobbema and surrounding area

Stating that it was an historic day for the people of Hobbema and surrounding area

HOBBEMA — The first RCMP detachment designed, financed and built by a First Nation in Canada was proudly unveiled Friday morning.

The grand opening ceremony began with the beat of drums and a procession coloured by the Mounties’ red serge and the rainbow costumes of native dancers.

Speakers from the four nations of the Maskwacis community saw the 13,100-square-foot building as a modern-day symbol of the community’s determination to confront violence in order to create a safe home for the reserve’s children, but also as a reinforcement of Treaty 6 promises.

Those promises were to provide policing and protection to the Samson, Ermineskin, Louis Bull and Montana nations.

“This new building is an example of that fulfilment of that particular treaty promise,” said Samson Chief Marvin Yellowbird.

The Samson Cree Nation financed and built the detachment without federal or provincial funding, he said. “It’s the first time in Canada this approach to creating an RCMP detachment has been used on a reserve.”

Montana Nation Chief Carolyn Buffalo said the detachment has been a very long time coming and she praised the Samson Nation for taking the lead on a project that will benefit all four nations.

While Hobbema has often been painted with a “black brush” for its crime problems, she said it is a good community and one that is working hard to provide a good place for children to grow up.

Buffalo said police have a difficult job and she is grateful for their contributions.

“I support the work of the RCMP because you work hard to keep the little ones safe. And as a mother, I thank you.”

RCMP K Division commanding officer Rod Knecht said “very significant progress” has been made in tackling the area’s crime in the last few months and the new detachment serves as a testament to the commitment of police, governments and the community.

In the last several years, Hobbema had seen a rising tide of violence, largely blamed on rival gangs. The senselessness of the violence was never more apparent than in April 2008, when a 23-month-old was wounded in a drive-by shooting as she ate dinner with her family. Last month, 19-year-old pleaded guilty to charges related to the shooting and will be sentenced in November.

Several speakers talked of the progress being made and Alberta Aboriginal Relations Minister Gene Zwozdesky said he was encouraged that more children were now seen in local playgrounds.

“This is a positive sign that you are all making a big difference.”

Cliff Potts, a former RCMP officer and past Samson councillor, said 18 years ago council passed a motion to pursue a new detachment building for the community.

“I knew at the time it was never going to be an easy project to get going,” he said. At the time there was talk of going to a tribal police force and he asked the elders what should be done.

They told him that the treaty had given them the RCMP to protect the community and “don’t ever let them go.”

Asked how he felt now the detachment was open, he said, “My heart soars like an eagle.

“It’s something that was needed for a while,” he added.

Flora Northwest said her mother Alice was an elder and always a strong supporter of police and she carries on that tradition with her children and grandchildren.

The Mounties have historically been there to protect First Nations people and those in other communities. “It’s an honour to have them here.”

Insp. Donald Ladouceur, head of the Maskwacis RCMP detachment, said the building provides a modern workplace for 55 officers and six support staff, who had outgrown their existing two-storey detachment building.

The new building also provides cell space for prisoners. In the old building, four cells were available for overnight stays, but all other prisoners had to be taken to the Wetaskiwin RCMP detachment. The new building also comes with space for victim’s services and a room has been set aside for an elder. There is also meeting spaces, better storage for exhibits and the necessary work areas for the busy detachment.