For 13 years, Cpl. Kim Mueller has been pouring her passion for kids into a number of youth outreach programs for First Nations and Métis communities in Alberta. Patricia Vasylchuk spoke to Mueller about her latest project in Enoch, Alta., and why she thinks being an Indigenous woman helps her build better relationships with local youth and their families.
How does being Indigenous help you in your police work?
As an Aboriginal person, right away I'm accepted by the community. I work with a lot of phenomenal non-Aboriginal members working in Aboriginal communities doing amazing work, but we can hit the ground running when we have an Aboriginal person who understands the culture, the history, the trauma. Some of our members, like myself, have lived through some of those traumas and can understand what some of our clients are going through. The community just has that trust for you almost automatically.
You previously ran a program for at-risk boys but what you're doing now is for girls. What is Strategies for Aboriginal Female Empowerment?
It's built on mentorship and education. I hand-picked 10 girls. We did junior high last year, but we're doing grades 6 and 7 this year. We went a little younger this year just to see if it's a better time to work with them — before they get into drugs, alcohol and sex — because the girls I picked last year were already engaging in some of these dangerous behaviours. Part of being in our group is that they have to stay in school, stay out of criminal activity, and stay away from drugs and alcohol. At the end of the program we do a big trip. Last year we went to Jasper and Banff.
What do you do with the girls?
My formula is half fun, half education. We meet weekly, and every second week we do a life lesson, whether its drugs or alcohol, hygiene or safe sex. And the next week we do fun things. We went to the movies, the water park, the mall. And that's when we can let our guard down and get to know each other. Have some fun, have some laughs. And the next week we'll go back to a serious topic.
Why is mentorship so important?
Just like the boys in MAGIC (Mothers Against Gangs in Communities), some of these girls don't have mothers actively involved in their lives, so it's just filling that gap to try to minimize those risk factors. Because a lot of our girls are being victimized or going missing. Sometimes they put themselves in risky situations. They're getting involved in drugs, alcohol, going out to parties, hitchhiking. So we're having very candid conversations about those types of choices.
What makes these programs successful?
The strength that the RCMP brought, is that we work 24/7. So if one of the kids is having a crisis at two in the morning, even if I wasn't available, I could call one of my co-workers and say: "Hey I've got this kid. This is where he lives. I need you to go pick him up." Sometimes it's going above and beyond, getting out of bed at two in the morning. But, that's also what builds trust with those kids. People in their lives have let them down before, so when they could call someone and I would be "
OK, give me 15 minutes and I'll be there," that really went a long way.
What motivates you to develop youth programs?
In Enoch, there's usually around 30 Grade 12 students for a full class and on average we're only seeing a handful each year graduate. So, we're trying to change that and get these kids on a good path. For any child, mentorship could make or break what path they go on. I believe that if we would front-load some money to help these guys when they're younger and keep them on a healthy path, it would be far less expensive than if we let them go sideways and then try to intervene and put them back on track.