Chief Peacekeeper Dwayne Zacharie has concerns about the First Nations Policing Program not meeting the needs of Onkwehón:we police services. (Daniel J. Rowe, The Eastern Door)
While the federal government’s recent announcement for funding First Nations policing is welcomed by many, the association representing the chiefs of Indigenous police say it ignores the bigger picture of having First Nations policing recognized as an essential service.
“It is additional funding, we are in desperate need of additional funding, so they’re cautiously optimistic, but at the same time, everybody is still looking for this essential service status to come about,” said chief Peacekeeper Dwayne Zacharie, who is also the president of the First Nations Chiefs of Police Association.
On January 10, the federal government announced that $291.2 million would be invested over the next five years for policing in First Nation and Inuit communities, over double the $102 million that was proposed in the federal government’s budget for 2017.
The additional $144.4 million will be for the next fiscal year to support officer safety, policing equipment and salaries, as well as $44.8 million, starting in 2019–2020, for up to 110 additional officer positions.
“The First Nations Policing Program is a critical service that protects the safety of Indigenous Peoples through culturally relevant policing,” said Ralph Goodale, minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.
“This new funding will be ongoing, so communities can count on it for the long-term. It’s part of our commitment to work together with Indigenous Peoples to make real progress.”
In October, the First Nations Chiefs of Police Association passed a resolution at its annual general meeting expressing concern with the current status of the program, asking the government to make the service an essential one with sustained funding to meet the needs of each department.
“We don’t want to have to worry in five years, is First Nation policing still going to be relevant, or important, or needed?” said Zacharie.
“The program itself is dated and it hasn’t grown at the same rate as some of the First Nations police services that we have in the country. We want to be recognized the same as our counterparts. We don’t want to be second-class citizens.”
The program has been in existence since the 1990s, with the current agreements being five years in length. The funding prior to Goodale’s announcement hadn’t changed since 2006.
“Many First Nations services don’t have good infrastructure, many First Nations services are understaffed, don’t have the proper gear or equipment, and some of them don’t even receive additional or advanced training,” said Zacharie.
“As well, many First Nations police officers are underpaid compared to their essential service counterparts – grossly underpaid.”
As for the Peacekeepers, Zacharie said there’s the desire to expand and receive additional advanced training for their officers.
“The Kahnawake Peacekeepers want to be at the forefront of First Nations policing, we want to be at the forefront of policing period,” said Zacharie.
“The reason we do this is because we want to provide a service that is appropriate to our community because that’s what it’s about. It’s about the safety and security of our community, first and foremost.”
Mohawk Council of Kahnawake chief Gina Deer said council will be pushing on the political front to have the program recognized as an essential service.
“Overall, it’s a very good start in the right direction for First Nations policing,” said Deer. “We would like to work towards having this deemed an essential service and not always have the threat of having the program cancelled.”
Deer herself is a former Peacekeeper before running for election.
“Every community is unique. Even as Mohawks, Akwesasne to Kahnawake, there’s a great deal of difference in how we operate and do things. It’s important to have our own policing within our own communities,” said Deer.
“We see what’s happening with the racial discrimination and things like that out there with the general policing services, whether it be the RCMP or provincial. You don’t really have that when you have your people policing each other,” said Deer.