Vol. 79, No. 1Panel discussion

Police recruits performing dance.

Indigenous awareness training

What works and what doesn't?

New Zealand police recruits of all ethnicities perform an indigenous Maori welcome and challenge. Credit: New Zealand Police

The panellists

  • Insp. Peter Stokes, National Pacific Strategic Advisor, New Zealand Police
  • Ret. Sgt. George Couchie, cultural awareness trainer, Ontario Provincial Police
  • Cassandra Ivany, facilitator, First Nations Initiatives, Yukon College
  • Ret. Insp. Jim Potts, Aboriginal Perceptions Training, RCMP and OPP

Insp. Peter Stokes

In 2016, New Zealand's (NZ) population was estimated at 4.5 million people while the most recent national census in 2013 identified 213 different ethnic groups (groups with more than 100 people) in the country.

About 64 per cent of the New Zealand population is of European descent (from Great Britain, Canada, United States, Ireland and Europe) while about 15 per cent is Maori (Indigenous population). The remaining 21 per cent comprises Asian and East Asian residents, Pacific islanders and others.

In 1840, a treaty was signed between Great Britain and the Indigenous Maori tribes of New Zealand. The Treaty of Waitangi has since had a profound and binding impact on the relationship between these two principle groups.

The New Zealand Police operates as a single national law enforcement entity and one of its six core values includes "Commitment to Maori and the Treaty of Waitangi." This core commitment places a requirement on the New Zealand Police to establish an effective partnership with Maori. NZ Police must gain a greater understanding and acceptance of the significance of the Treaty of Waitangi to Maori and New Zealand. Police need to learn how to bring the voice of Maori into policing decisions and operational procedures, and implement strategies designed to reduce the incidence and impact of criminal offending by Maori.

To incorporate this core value into the policing environment, a training program titled "Responsiveness to Maori" (RTM) is delivered at the Royal New Zealand Police College (RNZPC) to new recruits and to some promotional and specialist courses.

The RTM training is centred on understanding and incorporating the Treaty of Waitangi into the policing environment by defining Maori customs and protocols, and predicting and assessing the impact of police operational practices on Maori.

The Maori RTM training for recruits is promoted strongly during the 16-week training period but, currently, there are no test standards (theoretical or practical) to assess them.

Obviously, New Zealand's population diversity, together with the organization's core values, places a requirement on the NZ Police to train staff to be able to work effectively with all the ethnic communities.

Currently, there's a review of all cultural awareness and competency courses, including the RTM course, being delivered to police personnel.

It will look at reviewing, improving, standardizing and measuring the effectiveness of cultural awareness courses for Maori (and other prominent ethnic groups) that are delivered to all areas (recruits, promotions, senior level and specialist) at the police college.

The review will consider whether to set up a separate school for Maori and other ethnic groups within the RNZPC that would be responsible for the strategic direction and delivery of all cultural awareness programs to the New Zealand Police and, where relevant, other government departments.

These future training options are being seriously considered to ensure that all police staff will be able to effectively work with the increasingly diverse New Zealand society.

Ret. Sgt. George Couchie

When delivering cultural awareness training, it's important to recognize the diversity that exists among Indigenous peoples and communities across the many respective service areas. Each community has its own unique history, culture, traditions and challenges and the training should reflect that. The cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach simply doesn't work.

Course development must always happen in collaboration with Indigenous Elders, youth and community members. Having Elders supporting the course adds incredible value for both participants and course facilitators. Students and Elders often engage in conversation, during breaks for example, creating opportunities for the development of a deeper, more personal understanding of the topics being presented.

In fostering a safe, open and honest learning environment, participants are asked to come to the class out of uniform with an open mind and willingness to learn. Room location and set-up is integral. The use of sharing circles in concert with a traditional classroom set-up (LCD projector, tables and chairs) enhances and reinforces the transformational learning aspects of the training. Participants are provided a safe place to explore their learning with the support of the instructor, Elders and peers.

Given that ceremonies are a part of the training, it's important to be respectful of the time it takes to ensure the learners understand the significance of such ceremonies before they are asked to participate.

The learners gain a more meaningful experience when they can be involved in the learning with a hands-on approach. In fact, in my view, the hands-on, experiential approach to learning is critical to success. It allows students to relate to what is being taught on an emotional level. If learning is academic only, students are presented with a series of facts and may fail to connect emotionally. Experiential learning allows students to better understand the emotional responses of another person, while also helping them to explore the worldview of others.

Indigenous issues in Canada exist today as a result of a long and complex history. Having the opportunity to touch on topics such as culture, history, residential schools, treaties, socio-economic conditions, contemporary and emerging issues, best practices, and reconciliation in a systematic and in-depth manner allows participants the time to process and integrate the learning.

Ideally, the training should be delivered over three to four days with time incorporated, if possible, for more meditative, hands-on activities such as drum building, mask making, paddle making or canoeing. If adequate time is not provided for the training, there's a risk of doing more harm than good.

Cassandra Ivany

Much of my job in the First Nations Initiatives includes delivering workshops on Yukon First Nations history and culture. If I were telling you this in person, it might come as a bit of a shock. The brown hair and brown eyes might fool you, but the Newfie accent is a dead giveaway: I am not of Yukon First Nations ancestry. How this fully Caucasian, born and bred Newfoundlander found herself on the opposite end of the country delivering workshops on Yukon First Nations culture is a story for another day, but the end result is one of the cornerstones of our success.

Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, reminds us that it will take all Canadians working together for meaningful reconciliation, and I have the honour of working every day with a fantastic team of people, both First Nation and non, delivering these workshops together.

For non-Indigenous Canadians, it can be difficult to know where we fit into the reconciliation discussion. Fear of being offensive or accidently disrespectful can lead to inaction. Part of my role is to share my own inaccurate assumptions, missteps, fears and uncertainty, and to remind everyone that we are breaking new trail — the key is to keep moving forward, creating that path together.

Being non-First Nations, it's important that people understand I'm not speaking for First Nation people. The information we provide is vetted through the 14 Yukon First Nations. Yukon College's President's Advisory Committee on First Nations Initiatives meets quarterly to discuss educational issues, and is a fundamental link between the Yukon College and the territory's First Nations governments. This group created the framework for the workshops and ultimately endorsed the course content and materials.

When I walk in the room with my colleagues and introduce myself, there are always a couple of confused faces. Highlighting that what I am about to present doesn't come from me, but reflects the direction given by the 14 Yukon First Nations, lends validity to the information I'm presenting and gives me the confidence to answer that challenge.

These workshops cover some dark times in Canadian history — colonization, assimilation, the lasting legacy of the residential school system — information that's heavy and often hard to hear. Many participants come prepared for a guilt-ridden lecture. The first joke or lighthearted comment is often met with stunned silence or hesitant laughter, but the most common comment we hear during closing is that they had fun – and how unexpected that was. Humour helps create a safe environment where participants can ask uncomfortable questions, and that's vital to our success. No topic is off limits. These questions shape the direction of the session, triggering deep discussions relevant to the group. That's where truly transformative learning occurs.

Delivering cultural sensitivity training with both First Nation and non-First Nation facilitators, with a focus on building a common knowledge of our shared history in a safe and inclusive environment, where participants can openly discuss and challenge common misconceptions about First Nations people and actually have fun doing it — that's what has worked for us. It has opened lines of communication with RCMP, Health and Social Services, Departments of Education, Justice — areas where the relationship with First Nation people have been historically strained and helped bridge those gaps and bring us closer to meaningful reconciliation.

Ret. Insp. Jim Potts

Cultural awareness training was introduced to the Canadian police universe by the RCMP in 1974. At the time, it was in the form of a three-day, in-service course entitled Cross Cultural Education.

It's now recognized as a proven way to enhance an officer's ability to work effectively with Indigenous peoples, both on and off reserve. Unfortunately, many do not make this training a priority unless it's recommended or ordered by an official inquiry into police conduct such as Oka, Donald Marshall and Ipperwash.

In fairness, there are numerous demands on police time and resources and this particular training, while reasonably easy to document, can be very challenging to design and deliver.

The following suggestions come from my experiences with the above-mentioned course, which is now four days long and known as Aboriginal Perceptions.

The focus is on providing tools and need-to-know information. It's comprehensive and creditable in the eyes of Indigenous leaders but doesn't always receive positive critiques from candidates because delivering it presents challenges not common to most other in-service training.

What works? To ensure a positive outcome and have it accepted by and meet the needs of field personnel, the following points should be considered.

The training site should be comfortable and remote from the office.

The course should be custom designed to the area in which it's being delivered. It should be of sufficient duration to allow time to cover a wide range of topics through lectures, guided discussions as well as Talk Circles and Smudge and Sweat Lodge ceremonies.

Course candidates should be those involved in any facet of policing of Indigenous peoples, from communications center personnel and detachment office staff to front-line detachment members and their commanders. Requests to attend from other government agencies should be accommodated if possible. They bring the non-police perspective, which adds to the overall impact of the course.

Throughout the training, instructors should promote active discussion rather than simply providing basic information. Put candidates to work on day one by providing a questionnaire with open-ended questions: Many Indigenous communities do not trust the police. Why? What could you do to change this? Many feel the reserve system should be abolished. Do you agree/disagree? Why?

Having creditable, skilled resource people is one of the keys to having a successful course. These should include at least one local Elder who holds the respect of local native leaders, a co-ordinator who can address national issues and has extensive police experience in high-profile Indigenous crisis situations, and two local officers (Indigenous if available) who are working with Indigenous people. Keep in mind that just because a member is of Indigenous descent doesn't mean he or she has extensive knowledge about Indigenous culture. Most were raised in mainstream society, off reserve.

Rather than providing extensive readings in a large binder, put key information in handouts such as tips on building relationships, strategies for working in communities and a guide to working during conflicts. These could be used as field guides by members on site at roadblocks, for instance.

Ask the Elder to provide the opening and closing prayers, and inform the class about native spirituality, how to address a Sacred Fire or smudge, and what should be considered during sudden death and other investigations.

Case studies should be based on actual and recent incidents, some of which may have happened nearby. Encourage candidates to add their own experiences.

Throughout, thread in a variety of stories and traditional legends to reinforceteaching points. Keep the atmosphere light by using appropriate humor. Avoid being defensive if someone says something that others find offensive. Perhaps respond with a phrase like "It often takes courage to say what you really think, I'm glad you did. Let's talk about it."

What doesn't work? If all or most of the above are not taken into consideration, in my experience, the course will not have the desired effect and you may be wasting your valuable training dollar.

Having a positive working relationship is the key to providing an effective working relationship with all communities, Indigenous or non. This course, when successfully delivered, provides the core information required to help build the desired relationship as it succeeds in changing or broadening attitudes, increasing understanding and helping develop empathy, compassion and curiosity about Indigenous cultures.

Date modified: