There was praise and some very pointed criticism when the 47th Dene National Assembly discussed relations between First Nations and the RCMP.
National Chief Bill Erasmus noted the Dene have a long relationship with the RCMP, but it has not always been the way they wanted it to be.
Erasmus pointed to the Public Safety Protocol Agreement signed in 2013 by the Dene Nation and the RCMP as having improved communications and encouraged a closer working relationship.
“This protocol is to help us have safe communities so that we have order in our communities, and that the RCMP work with us so that the authority that we have as chiefs is able to function, and to have a good place for our communities to live,” he said.
Speaking on July 20 at the Dene National Assembly on the Hay River Reserve, Erasmus told the various First Nations that they can create their own protocols with the RCMP.
“We can even bring it closer to the communities so that in your own community you can have a direct relationship with the RCMP,” he said. “You can sign something with the RCMP if you want or use this protocol so that in your community you can set up a committee, for example, that deals with issues that might be of your concern, whether it’s alcohol or drugs, addictions, whatever it might be.”
Erasmus noted that, under such a protocol, the RCMP knows who to contact in a First Nation.
“They can move quickly to resolve issues,” he said.
Erasmus said that, over the winter, he was contacted on a number of occasions by the RCMP seeking advice.
“And they’re able to do their work quickly and more effectively,” he added.
Chief Supt. Jamie Zettler, the commanding officer of the RCMP’s G Division, said the long relationship with the Dene people is very important to the RCMP.
“Because of the Dene people accepting us, working with us, befriending us, we were able to provide policing to the territories,” he said, while pointing to special constables who introduced RCMP members to Dene culture.
Zettler noted the Public Safety Protocol Agreement has created engagement with each community.
“It’s a very important protocol for us,” he said. “It clearly identifies the roles and responsibilities of both the RCMP and the communities, as well as the leadership.”
Chief Joachim Bonnetrouge of Deh Gah Got’ie First Nation in Fort Providence said the RCMP represents Canada.
“It is people like myself and the elders who still maintain very high regard and respect for the RCMP as far as I can remember,” he said.
Bonnetrouge added he supports the RCMP recruiting young people to join the organization.
“We want them to join a high-integrity, respectful agency like the RCMP,” he said.
Others at the assembly encouraged the RCMP to learn more about Dene culture, including by going on the land with school programs and by attending the workshop on the residential school system offered by the GNWT to educators.
A very different view of the RCMP was offered by Chief Frieda Martselos of Salt River First Nation in Fort Smith.
Martselos believes the Public Safety Protocol Agreement has had very minimal effect.
“I feel there is lack of communication, lack of understanding, lack of accountability, and lack of transparency,” she said.
For example, Martselos stated there would be no need for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls if the RCMP had treated indigenous women like non-aboriginal women.
“I’m extremely disappointed in the RCMP because they did not do their job,” she said.
The chief also criticized the RCMP for the “overwhelming” problem of illegal drugs in communities.
Martselos also appeared to contrast the RCMP with herself personally.
“I’m a model citizen,” she said. “I do everything above board. I’m very transparent. I’m very accountable.”
In response to Martselos’ criticisms, Zettler said, “Our organization is not perfect. I know that.”
Chief Roy Fabian of K’atlodeeche First Nation brought up the long-running issue of the RCMP’s dispatch centre being in Yellowknife.
“The centre needs to be moved out of Yellowknife,” he said, suggesting a smaller community where dispatchers could become more familiar with the Dene communities they serve.