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Building relationships and strengthening bonds with Indigenous Peoples

Painting by Kevin Adler. Stylized depiction of the early history between the RCMP and First Nations peoples. Collage of images including settler wagons, a buffalo jump, mounted Police officers in Red Serge, a teepee village, Chief Crowfoot, Jerry Potts, and Commissioner James F. Macleod.

Painting by Kevin Adler depicting the early history of the RCMP and First Nations peoples on the Prairies. Pictured are Chief Crowfoot (top right), Jerry Potts (middle right) and 3rd Commissioner of the North-West Mounted Police James F. Macleod (bottom left).

It is impossible to tell the history of the RCMP without including its close relationship with the Indigenous peoples. First Nations and Métis peoples were some of the RCMP’s first clients. Their protection was identified as a key priority for the creation of the Force after reports of the lawlessness of the frontier reached Prime Minister John A. Macdonald. One report at the time read: “the region of the Saskatchewan is without law, order, or security for life or property; robbery and murder for years have gone unpunished; Indian massacres are unchecked even in the close vicinity of the Hudson Bay Company's post, and all civil and legal institutions are entirely unknown.

As the newly formed North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) made their historic March West in 1874, it quickly became obvious they would need the cooperation of the different Indigenous peoples of the Prairies in order to effectively police the North-West Territories. To this end, Commissioner G.A. French hired a Métis man named Jerry Potts as a special constable in 1874 to act as a guide and an ambassador to the many different First Nations confederacies.

With Potts’ help, the NWMP found the notorious Fort Whoop-up whisky trading post, tore it down and founded a number of police posts nearby bringing an end to Canada’s brief “Wild West” period. As Chief Crowfoot said at the signing of the Blackfoot Treaty 7 in 1877: “If the police had not come to this country, where would we all be now? Bad men and whiskey [sic] were killing us so fast that very few of us would have been alive today.

Over the next 22 years, Potts became an invaluable mediator between the different First Nations confederacies on the Prairies and the NWMP, acting as an interpreter and educating each group on the other to ensure friendly relations. Even during the Red River and North West Rebellions, when First Nations and Métis people were in direct conflict with the Canadian government, Potts was able to keep many confederacies neutral.

The Red River and North West Rebellions took a toll on the good relations between the NWMP and the First Nations and Métis peoples, and it has taken many years for these relationships to recover.

Nowadays, the RCMP Academy, “Depot” Division, is committed to always strengthening its relationships with Indigenous peoples through programs such as the Aboriginal Pre-Cadet Training Program and the multiple youth leadership workshops hosted here every year. Both of these initiatives aim to empower and inspire Indigenous youth for a career in police work.
“Depot” Division is also honoured to welcome members of the Métis community to the RCMP Academy as they pay their respects to Louis Riel at the annual march and vigil in his name.

As part of their regular training, cadets receive five hours of dedicated instruction on First Nations history, culture and spirituality from an Elder in the community, Rick Cardinal and his partner Beverly. “There is a lot of mythology about First Nations people out there,” says Beverly, “so being able to sit in a room respectfully and share knowledge with a new generation of police officers is a great opportunity.

The RCMP Academy, “Depot” Division, is proud to support Indigenous people and we would like to thank them for their many contributions to the Force and to Canada.