A new sweat lodge at Depot, the RCMP's training academy, is giving cadets a chance to become familiar with aspects of Indigenous culture.
Last summer, a troop of cadets helped build a sweat lodge with local Indigenous partners on Depot grounds. They carried fresh-cut willow boughs and firewood under the supervision of an Elder from the Okanese First Nation.
"The whole troop was excited to help," says Cst. Yannick Roy, who worked on the sweat lodge as a cadet. "It was a rewarding experience."
Once the lodge was built and blessed, the cadets participated in a sweat ceremony in the large, 36-person structure.
"They did four rounds in the sweat lodge, which can be difficult," says RCMP Sgt. Eric Sheppard, who works at Depot and chairs the Commanding Officer's Indigenous Advisory Committee. "We had positive feedback from the cadets and the Indigenous community."
Sweat lodges are used by Indigenous communities across the Americas as ceremonial and healing spaces. Water is poured on hot rocks within the lodge filling it with steam providing a physical and emotional experience.
The lodge at Depot provides a familiar setting for Indigenous cadets and an educational opportunity for those unfamiliar with Indigenous culture. Experiences like this are having an effect on the ground.
In the field
Roy was new on the job in New Brunswick when he learned about a sweat ceremony following the Indigenous Summer Games. RCMP officers were invited and Roy attended with another officer.
"I wanted to connect with the community," says Roy. "It was another rewarding experience to be able to meet some of the individuals on their reserve."
The Elder conducting the sweat lodge was pleasantly surprised to learn that Roy had helped build a lodge at Depot and appreciated his desire to learn more about the communities where he works.
For Sheppard, it shows that initiatives like Depot's sweat lodge are making a difference.
"It encourages dialogue and sharing personal experiences unique to the diverse backgrounds of today's cadets," he says. "The sweat lodge brings us together as equals and provides an experience celebrating Canada's Indigenous heritage."
The lodge is one of a handful of Indigenous initiatives underway at Depot. Last year, cadets gained the option to affirm their graduating oath using an eagle feather and more Indigenous content was added to policing courses.
Depot's sweat lodge isn't an RCMP first. In 2018, RCMP in Nova Scotia built one at its headquarters and, last year, RCMP in Newfoundland and Labrador did the same.
RCMP officers have historically participated in sweat lodges in the more than 600 Indigenous communities they serve. Depot brings the experiences to its newest members to keep this important part of reconciliation alive.