Teena Solomon-Ouellette knows what it's like to bridge gaps and strengthen relationships, even during the most challenging situations. A member of the Neqotkuk First Nation, she has worked as an RCMP Community Program Officer for Indigenous communities (CPOI) in northwestern New Brunswick since 2017.
Our role is to provide that vital community engagement between the RCMP and the communities," she says. "
It's more than just crime prevention and crime reduction. We know the communities we serve, we know the people. It's having that Indigenous lens and being able to provide culturally relevant support."
The RCMP in Brunswick launched the general Community Program Officer (CPO) program in 2007, with civilians hired to provide increased police visibility, enhanced community engagement and a stronger focus on crime prevention activities.
In 2017, the Indigenous stream of the program was created. CPOIs were strategically located in detachments near First Nations in RCMP jurisdiction. The program was recently expanded to include six CPOIs, including Solomon-Ouellette as supervisor.
Just like the regular CPOs, they do engagement with youth on things such as cyberbullying and impaired driving. They also work on diversion and alternative measures, and they attend community events.
Through an Indigenous lens
The difference is doing it in a way that resonates with Indigenous communities," Solomon-Ouellette says. "
They work with Elders, they attend Pow Wows, they support our Eagle Feather initiative. All of them have a keen interest in the culture, and the resources that are already in the communities we serve."
In Canada, the relationship between the RCMP and Indigenous communities has received a lot of attention from the media and the public, in part because of the RCMP's role in residential schools, negative encounters between the RCMP and First Nations members, and a mistrust of police among some Indigenous people.
What we can do is bridge the gap and bring better understanding. It's not just from the RCMP to the community. We're the liaison from the community to the frontline – they know they can turn to us for insight and guidance, which does promote better outcomes." says Solomon-Ouellette.
Former Assistant Commissioner Larry Tremblay says the RCMP in New Brunswick is focused on strengthening relationships between police and Indigenous communities and that the CPOIs are an important part of that process.
New opportunities for Indigenous officers
The CPOI program is also creating new opportunities for RCMP employees in New Brunswick.
Tracey Paul Kirkpatrick is a Strategic Planning Analyst with Community Engagement and Indigenous Policing Services in New Brunswick.
The CPOI program has also helped us develop career pathways for Indigenous employees in the force," says Paul Kirkpatrick, who is also a member of National RCMP Reconciliation Working Group.
Although many of the CPOIs are Indigenous, it's not a requirement of the job, however.
It's such a meaningful career opportunity," says Paul Kirkpatrick. "
To stay connected to our communities, to make a real difference on the ground, and to know you're fostering better understanding and appreciation of Indigenous issues, perspectives and approaches in the RCMP."
With contributions from Indigenous RCMP employees and Indigenous community representatives, the RCMP in New Brunswick has developed a strategy to engage Indigenous communities with a priority on ensuring form the way forward.
According to Paul Kirkpatrick, the approach is necessary for providing a more responsive community-focused service to Indigenous communities and partners. The CPOI Supervisor works very closely with the Community Engagement team ensuring that the CPOIs perspectives are taken into account based on their work in communities and they play a key role in establishing priorities that are important to the communities they serve.