Historic day as first First Nations person heads RCMP division

REGINA — In fluent Cree, the new top Mountie in Saskatchewan says he’s “very pleased to have been given this work.”

Chief Superintendent Russ Mirasty

Chief Superintendent Russ Mirasty

REGINA — In fluent Cree, the new top Mountie in Saskatchewan says he’s “very pleased to have been given this work.”

“Nimithwethiteen ota ipi methikawiyan oma atoskewin,” says RCMP Chief Supt. Russ Mirasty.

Mirasty, who is a member of the Lac La Ronge Indian band in northern Saskatchewan, has taken over as the commanding officer of F Division — becoming the first First Nations person to lead an RCMP division in the force’s history.

He’s modest about the achievement.

“It wasn’t really something that I was preoccupied with and really, as a matter of fact, (it) wasn’t an issue for me when I was appointed to this job in terms of having it dominate my thoughts or being something that I thought about on a daily basis,” Mirasty said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

“But when I did have time to reflect on it, and my wife and I talked, and even my children, it was, ’You know this is historic.’ My daughter actually said, ’This is pretty cool.’ ”

Mirasty joined the RCMP in 1976.

He remembers being one of only two First Nations cadets in his troop at Depot Division, the RCMP’s training academy in Regina.

“We were certainly a minority,” he recalls. “But it wasn’t really an issue quite frankly. Everybody knew who we were, but … it’s so busy, it’s so demanding, I think the people that are in training don’t have time to think about anything but getting through the days.”

He worked his way through the ranks and across the country from Gander, N.L., to Prince George, B.C. He served stints in general detachment policing, highway patrol and police dog services. Then Mirasty got involved with something that he has “a passion for” — aboriginal policing services. He worked with the program in Saskatchewan and oversaw it at the national level.

Cree is Mirasty’s first language and the North is still a big part of who he is. For one thing, Mirasty says, his background helps him understand people better.

He acknowledges the force’s relationship with some communities hasn’t always been good.

“When we talk about negative situations or negative relationships, we have to accept that as a reality because it’s usually as a result of a particular negative incident, which unfortunately policing is more often than not about,” he says.

“I mean it’s about people getting hurt. It’s about people getting into trouble. It’s about people and communities facing various challenges that affect them. And so they’re not always happy situations.

“What can I do to foster or enable us to (have) a better working relationship? (I go) back to my background, not only as an aboriginal person, but my professional experience across Canada and being able to relate to different challenges that people face.”

Mirasty says he’s humbly learned to accept that he’s become a role model for other First Nations people.

He’s proud of the force, too, and the advances it has made in recruiting more First Nations people since he joined 34 years ago.

“We’ve had a long history with aboriginal-First Nations people and to be able to say … that we have finally — after 135 odd years — a First Nations person leading a division, particularly in Western Canada, it is quite an accomplishment. Not only for me but for the organization as well.”

The chief superintendent says there’s also a lot of pride in La Ronge. The community, where his mother still lives, has always been very supportive,“always been there beside me as I travelled around the country and advanced in the organization.”

Mirasty started full-time duties in mid-December but the official change of command ceremony with the RCMP commissioner won’t happen until February.

He says he’s glad to be back in Saskatchewan.

“It’s home. I know the province very well,” he says. “To be able to head the RCMP in your home province — what an honour.

“It couldn’t get any better for me quite frankly.”

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