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A police officer looks at the camera. A teepee in a wooded area is in the background.

RCMP adjusts training to support Indigenous policing

Among its many law-enforcement programs, the Canadian Police College provides a leadership course that focuses on the needs of Indigenous policing. Credit: Serge Gouin, RCMP


The RCMP is investing in the policing and leadership skills of law enforcement officers who serve Indigenous communities across Canada.

"Policing on First Nations comes with its own unique challenges," says Sgt. Phil Ironstand, the Canadian Police College (CPC) Program Manager for the Professional Development Centre for Indigenous Policing (PDCIP). "There's a balancing act where police have to do their jobs but also be respectful and mindful of where they are and the people they're dealing with."

Ironstand collaborated on the re-design of a CPC course called Strategic Policing through Action and Character Leadership Development (SPAC), with the needs of Indigenous officers and those who serve in Indigenous communities in mind.

There are hundreds of First Nation communities across Canada that are served by the RCMP, provincial or local police forces. As well, many of Canada's cities have large Indigenous populations.

"Each of those communities have their own traditions and unique policing needs and we want to provide officers with the skills to help serve those communities," says Ironstand, who's based in Regina.

The start

The SPAC course – which was implemented at the request of Indigenous groups such as the First Nations Chiefs of Police Association (FNCPA) – is for officers who want to take on leadership roles.

A/Comm Serge Cote, Executive Director of CPC, says the college is focused on innovative ways to support leadership development through improved course offerings, additional workshops and individual coaching.

"The college is also developing partnerships, both within Canada and internationally to ensure that the CPC remains cutting edge," says Cote. "This approach will allow organizations to identify the learning opportunities which best suits their organizations' needs."

The topics covered in the SPAC course include leadership and management concepts, problem solving, ethics, conflict resolution, and communication.

The first course was held in 2019, while the second was completed online in April. Former RCMP officer Dani Herman was among the 15 participants.

"I feel I can play a leadership role in the community, and I wanted to learn more about doing that," says Cst. Herman, who in 2020 joined the File Hills First Nations Police Service in Saskatchewan.

The 24-year veteran of the RCMP serves five First Nation communities northeast of Regina.

Although she's a member of the Cowessess First Nation in southern Saskatchewan, Herman grew up in the city and says she needs to be mindful of the communities she polices to build stronger relationships with the people who live there.

"The course was a good way to broaden my perspective to help me be more in tune with where people are coming from when I interact with them," says Herman.

Leadership and resilience

Cpl. Chelsea Drane, a 13-year RCMP veteran and member of the Métis Nation, took the inaugural course.

"I've always been interested in being a better leader than a manager," she says. "But I think to be both, you have to show a willingness to lead by example and to do the things you want to ask other people to do."

Drane adds she appreciated the Indigenous elements of the course, such as the eagle feather and the sweat ceremony, which she said helps to connect police services to the community they serve.

"But I do think Indigenous elements should be part of all courses," she says. "Indigenous culture is a big part of Canada. There are many places we police with large Indigenous populations and it's important to recognize that and be culturally engaged."

Cote says the course demonstrates the college's inclusiveness and commitment to set national standards for policing. He also credits the college staff for teaching the course virtually and during a worldwide pandemic.

"Delivering leadership virtually required a cultural shift for both the college and the course participants. On the SPAC, folks had to deal with broadband and connectivity issues in remote parts of the country and find alternative solutions," says Cote. "That forward leaning and resilience building approach was a good demonstration of leadership."

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