Cpl. Cheryle Hayden is one of five RCMP Métis liaison officers stationed across Canada — and she has a lot of ground to cover.
She works with Métis throughout Ontario, delivering programs and products to help them and their communities with a wide array of issues. Hayden says the work is important and well-received.
People keep calling me to come back because they want to talk about issues of concern," says the 31-year RCMP veteran who's based in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. "
They wouldn't ask if they didn't care."
Hayden, along with the RCMP Métis liaison officers in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and the Northwest Territories, offer programs to the 587,545 Canadians who identify as Métis.
The officers attend community events and cultural celebrations, deliver crime-prevention and youth-empowerment programs, promote Métis cultural training and awareness and act as a liaison between community members and the RCMP.
That work might see Hayden driving to Bancroft, Ont., to deliver a healthy relationships workshop or going to Kenora, Ont., to talk about frauds and scams.
In British Columbia, Cpl. Susan Boyes has worked with Indigenous and Métis communities for years. Like her Ontario colleague, she travels all over the province, although the bulk of her work is based in B.C.'s Lower Mainland.
Boyes' job involves working with communities, identifying their needs and supplying the appropriate programming. The success of all that work begins with one simple, yet often complex, task — building relationships.
In B.C., the RCMP recognized there was a missed opportunity and we need to build relationships with the Métis," says Boyes, who adds that could mean something as informal as talking to people over coffee or attending a multi-day youth event.
There are also serious issues to address. "
For instance, domestic violence is always a concern and we want to try and get ahead of the situation in communities where it's been identified as an issue," says Boyes. "
That means bringing in speakers and experts to educate people so we can prevent things from escalating."
In August, Hayden's efforts in Ontario earned her an award from the Métis Nation of Ontario. She was presented with a cultural yellow shawl with coloured stripes, which represents the wisdom women bring to the communities. But Hayden maintains it's the quality of the programming that counts most.
And those programs have to be sustainable and built for the long term," says Hayden, who also develops educational literature and frequently visits schools to deliver programming for Métis youth. "
We always have to make sure we have more to offer."
Insp. Kim Taplin, the Officer in Charge of National Aboriginal Policing Services, oversees the Métis liaison officers.
The community engagement and outreach undertaken has improved public safety in Métis communities by reducing crime," says Taplin. "
It's also led to better understanding between the two groups and has enhanced communication."
Members of the Métis communities also see the benefits.
Respondents to a 2016 survey about the liaison officers' work said they supported the initiative. Those who answered identified several benefits including that the officers' efforts helped to identify gaps in policing services and they provided a voice to the Métis in their dealings with the RCMP.
Taplin adds their work fosters reconciliation with Métis people across Canada, a huge priority for the Government of Canada and most importantly for RCMP employees. She says the RCMP wants to build a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples, based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership.
One example of that recognition occurred last year when the RCMP pledged to return artifacts that once belonged to Métis Leader Louis Riel. They include a crucifix, a book of poetry and a knife.
The signed agreement states that the RCMP Heritage Centre in Regina, Sask., will continue to act as caretaker of the items until the Métis Nation finds a permanent home for them. The formal transfer of the items is expected next year.
The officers' work has built trust between the Métis and the RCMP," says Taplin. "
Relationships are vital. We acknowledge that they take time to build, but they are a priority, and local initiatives must be community-driven and supported."