A pipe ceremony at Red Deer’s downtown RCMP detachment Wednesday brought police officers and local indigenous community members together to help advance Truth and Reconciliation.
The event — at which officers in red serge mingled with people wearing ribbon skirts and native motifs — had been planned for several years, but was held up by the pandemic, said Supt. Holly Glassford, of Red Deer City RCMP.
She considers the ceremony and informal coffee session that followed “an important first step in our Truth and Reconciliation process,” and helping build trust and better relationships.
“I liked listening to the elders and learning from them,” said Glassford, who felt it important to gain insight about historic divisions between police and First Nations people.
While many attendees, including Elder Hazel Desjarlais, appreciated this opportunity for open dialogue between the two groups, others felt it was a small step forward on a very long road ahead.
The years of the residential school system, where police officers were often used to round up Indigenous children who didn’t want to leave their parents, “was still a relatively short time ago,” said Corky Larsen-Jonasson. She noted some Saskatoon police officers were more recently accused of abandoning aboriginal men in the middle of nowhere, resulting in freezing deaths.
”We have to be patient with people who need more time for forgiveness,” she concluded.
But while “it’s going to take time to build trust,” Larsen-Jonasson said some progress is made even by allowing pipe ceremonies to be held at the police detachment as these were illegal in Canada until 1951.
Lyle Keewatin Richards also believes “more healing is needed” in the often strained relationship with police. For that reason, he would like to see more events like this held in Red Deer “to soften that as we move towards reconciliation.”
Richards was impressed to hear RCMP officers who investigated the recent stabbing deaths on the James Smith Cree Nation in Saskatchewan were truly part of that community and knew all of the families involved. He said it would be nice to have that kind of closeness in Red Deer.
Joe Chodzicki, vice-president of Metis Nation of Alberta, Region 3, Local 492, felt Wednesday’s gathering was needed: “In order for us to move forward on this, we need to move forward together.”
Another attendee, Raye St. Denys, executive-director of Shining Mountains Living Community Services, said the past, “as sad as it is,” is now history, and all parties should start working together to build a better future.
Former Red Deer mayor and honorary elder Morris Flewwelling feels Wednesday’s event helped promote unity. He was particularly “delighted” to see so many young people in attendance — including City of Red Deer employees. “They are beginning to realize the serious nature of what’s needed for reconciliation,” as the fulfillment of Treaties is a shared responsibility, he added.
Glassford hopes this event will become an annual one.