An RCMP-organized camp program is empowering girls from Shamattawa, Man., and building community connections.
For the past two summers, the program has brought a handful of girls from the remote First Nations community 750 kilometers south to a Girl Guides Camp near Winnipeg.
The camp aims to build confidence in the girls from the 1,000-person community. Shamattawa has confronted issues such as youth suicide, arson and domestic violence.
"This is all about empowering these girls," says RCMP Sgt. Deb Richard, an officer with the Shamattawa detachment. "We want to give them the confidence not to be victims."
While the stay at the Manitoba Girl Guide's Caddy Lake Camp was the trip's highlight, the girls heard about leadership and self-confidence from a Shamattawa-born air ambulance pilot and Manitoba RCMP's Commanding Officer, Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy.
Richard visits the Shamattawa school most mornings and still hears fond memories of this year's camp and anticipation for its next edition.
"It has definitely helped engage young people," says Richard, who volunteers with other community youth programs like the Canadian Junior Rangers. "It helps our relationship with the community in general and with our partner agencies."
The camp program is one of the many ways in which the RCMP supports the people and communities where they work.
"As RCMP officers, we love to help and love to lead," says Cpl. Lesley Scramstad, who was a chaperone for the camping trip and has worked in many remote Manitoba detachments. "Community policing is the foundation of all policing."
While camping classics like canoeing, crafts and campfires filled the agenda, the Shamattawa girls had the chance to share their culture with girls from across Manitoba. During meals, they explained Cree words and phrases and talked about what it's like living up North.
"They're resilient girls. We learned as much from them as they did from us," Scramstad says.
RCMP Cst. Julie Cote launched the program last year with funding from the Manitoba Criminal Property Forfeiture Fund, which sees illicit assets redirected to the public good.
In 2018, 15 girls went on the trip. Following that success, 25 girls aged 6 to 15 went to camp last year.
Athena Le Fort-Lynx volunteered to be a mentor on the trip. She recently spent three weeks at the RCMP's Depot training academy completing the Aboriginal Pre-Cadet Training Program and jumped at the chance to volunteer.
"It was an empowering experience," says Le Fort-Lynx. "They're brave young girls."
Gail Francois, another volunteer who completed the Aboriginal Pre-Cadet Training Program, was proud to contribute to the program.
"The girls reminded me of myself when I was younger," says Francois, who grew up on a reserve before moving to Winnipeg at 11.
"I want to be a role model and show the girls there's opportunities to excel," says Francois. "They're ambitious and want to learn skills to help their community."
Richard says Girl Guides Manitoba went above and beyond when helping with this year's camp.
In March, the Girl Guides announced its campground would be closed for the season, but after some adjustments they were able to open and the girls from Shamattawa were camping with girl guides from all over Manitoba.
"There was some magic on their end and we made it happen," Richard says.
While the program started in Shamattawa, plenty of leg work happened at the RCMP's Manitoba headquarters to make it a success. Staff helped arrange planes, buses and trips like a stop at the Assiniboine Park Zoo.
"We had lots of help from HQ and the people in Contract and Indigenous Policing. This isn't a one-detachment job," says Richard. "It was a positive experience for everybody."