Proactive policing, building relationships and partnering with local organizations is helping the Port Hardy RCMP with their reconciliation efforts with First Nation communities.
We relied on their willingness to come to the table and be partners with us," says RCMP Cpl. Chris Voller, who worked with the Kwakiutl, Quatsino, and Gwa'sala-'Nakwaxda'xw First Nations while at the Port Hardy detachment between 2015 and 2020.
Small gestures, like adding the First Nations' logos to police vehicles and larger initiatives, like supporting the Gwa'sala-'Nakwaxda'xw First Nations' managed alcohol program and Indigenous Court application, are helping the Port Hardy RCMP make inroads with the communities.
We got to know the communities and what their wants and needs are. Once we knew what they wanted from us, it was making sure we had constant communication and presence in the communities," says RCMP S/Sgt. Wes Olsen, the former detachment commander in Port Hardy.
Dean Wilson, director of the Gwa'sala-'Nakwaxda'xw Health and Family Services Department, says attitudes shifted when officers were spotted around the communities more often.
Officers were doing things like seeing an Elder stacking wood and they would get out and help. There was a mom coming back from the grocery store with her arms full and pushing a buggy and they gave her a ride home," says Wilson.
The stories spread on local social media groups with many residents sharing their delight seeing police officers connecting with the community.
That kind of commitment isn't just about doing reports, coming to meetings or planning programs. People saw the humanity in officers and before I don't think they always saw past the badge," says Wilson.
RCMP officers often visit the Gwa'sala-'Nakwaxda'xw School, taking time to give presentations, read with students, or play sports, and attend events like Elders' lunches and traditional events.
We get the opportunity to humanize ourselves and engage with youth in an environment that isn't law-enforcement based," says Voller. "
They're tomorrow's leaders."
While in Port Hardy, Voller often met with Elders to learn about traditional culture and language, developing friendships in the process. He helped organize educational tours on traditional lands allowing other RCMP officers to learn more about the local First Nations.
If you don't understand how someone feels or how someone is effected by something, you're not serving them the best you can," says Voller, who is now a detachment commander with the RCMP's Quadra Island detachment In April, Voller was award the B.C. Lieutenant Governor's Reconciliation Award for his work at the Port Hardy detachment after a nomination from Olsen and community leaders.
When the Gwa'sala-'Nakwaxda'xw Health and Family Services Department established a the Gwa'dzi Managed Alcohol Program, which provides individuals with alcohol-use disorders a doctor-prescribed dose of alcohol, the RCMP reached out to see how they could help.
Now, a nurse and outreach worker can deliver measured doses of alcohol to their clients if they're in the RCMP's detachment cells, helping prevent harmful and potentially fatal withdrawal symptoms.
It allows them to have the highest level of care when in custody and a better understanding about what's happening," says Voller.
The RCMP is also working closely with Gwa'sala-'Nakwaxda'xw First Nations as they prepare an application to establish an Indigenous Court – a legal and community-based criminal sentencing court focusing on restorative justice and spiritual healing.
For Voller, working towards reconciliation is important given the area's history.
In the 1960s, the RCMP's participated in the federal government's relocation of Gwa'sala-'Nakwaxda'xw households, something Elders in the community still remember.
Understanding history and what people hold scared and seeing the ceremonies are all important things. They play a role in how that community interacts," says Voller.