RCMP Cpl. Steve Beck does not dress like a police officer – at least not all the time.
Wearing no uniform beyond a dirty ball cap with RCMP emblazoned in white letters and blood-smeared blue coveralls with a crest on the shoulder, Beck taught a group of visiting students from Ecole Boreale and Chief Sunrise Education Centre how to skin a beaver.
“It’s important that the knowledge get passed on,” he said. “That’s what my uncles told me. They would teach me, as long as I promised to teach others.”
Beck’s programs – including Take a Kid Trapping and Reclaim Our Spirit, Connect to the Land – were awarded $10,000 by the RCMP Foundation on May 16. The money will allow children from Hay River and the Hay River Reserve to continue to spend a few days at a time out on the land with Beck, learning and absorbing traditional culture.
Last week, about 20 children and their chaperones hunted, trapped and cooked their meals at Beck’s campsite near the Alberta border.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “We have a lady making 150 bannock a day, every day, while these kids are here.”
The special constable explained that not only do the students stay in the cabins – one of which was built by past campers – they help maintain the site, as well.
“Most of these kids have never worked so hard in their lives,” Beck noted. “Of course, they’re hungry all the time.”
The students experience the more practical aspects of Aboriginal culture.
For instance, Beck demonstrates how to take the feet and tail off a beaver before skinning it and breaking it down for the pot, but also the logic and belief behind it. Pointing to a box of entrails and offal, he noted that, while some might find it distasteful, he had a responsibility to take the remnants of the butchered animals back to the land.
“That’s not going to go in a garbage bag and then to some dump,” he said. “When you’re taking life, you have to use that animal fully and respect it.”
The community constable program was implemented in Hay River in 2011. Part of its mandate is to create stronger links between the community and the police force by hiring an Aboriginal RCMP officer to serve in an outreach capacity as well as normal police duties. Beck was and continues to be that officer.
Elder Lillian Sinclair acknowledged Beck’s role in the community and noted that she has seen a change in attitude towards the police since the community constable program was created.
“Some of (the children), they have this idea that they should be afraid of the RCMP,” she said. “Hopefully, this is showing them that that’s not the case.”
Inspector Jamie Zettler and Cpl. Barry Ledoux of the RCMP’s ‘G’ Division came down from Yellowknife, and was joined by Hay River Cpl. Scott Young, to present the $10,000 cheque on behalf of the RCMP Foundation, an organization set up to help fund special projects in which Canada’s national police force is involved.
“This is one of the great benefits of my job,” said Zettler. “Everyone saw how the program works and how it helps develop new relationships, and this has been the highlight of the three years of the special constable program in Hay River. This is one I’m quite proud of.”
K’atlodeeche First Nation Chief Roy Fabian also praised the on-the-land initiative.
“When you get out here, you’ll want to be out here all the time,” he said. “That’s the magic.”
Fabian claimed Dene and non-Dene people alike have lost connection with the land that sustains them and that programs like Beck’s are essential to getting it back.
“This learning, it’s got to happen out here,” he said. “Not in schools.”
While the same sentiment was perhaps left unarticulated by the younger participants at the camp, it was certainly evident in everything they did. The students were involved in every aspect of preparing the day’s meal of duck stew with vegetables, including serving the elders who were on hand for the presentation.
One such elder, Celine Buggins, was keen to pass on what she knew, but also – to some extent – lamented the format of how such teaching now happens.
“I was brought up in the bush until I was 15,” she said, adding she would spend months at a time out on the land with her family, fishing and hunting, and then come back to the community for a few months.
“Now, they go to school, but we can still teach them in our houses and, on weekends, we can take them out,” she said.
Buggins has taught her grandchildren how to make tea on the fire without burning themselves.
“When I was a little girl, when it was time to go back (to the community), I would tell my parents, ‘No, I’ll just stay here, you go back.’ I wanted to stay on the land that much.”
Shortly after, as adults gathered the students into quiet formation for the official presentation, a girl leaned over and whispered to her friend: “I wish we could stay out here always.”
— Sarah Ladik