The RCMP: Cultural Transformation and Reconciliation

By Dr. Anita Olsen Harper, March 2019

The RCMP: Cultural Transformation and Reconciliation was written on behalf of the RCMP by Dr. Anita Olsen Harper in March 2019. The paper provides a framework for the RCMP National Strategy on Reconciliation (currently in development). It also acts as a roadmap for the RCMP as we undertake the journey of Reconciliation. This includes the our first annual reconciliation report, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Path of Reconciliation: Strengthening Trust in the RCMP 2019-2020.

This paper speaks to Indigenous perspectives and various topics that impact reconciliation.

Please note that this paper is only a snapshot in time. The organizations mentioned have moved further along the path of their own reconciliation journeys. For example, the New Zealand 2019 model "Our Business Tā Tātou Umanga" in section 3.1.3 was updated in 2020 with this new infographic.

Request a copy of the full report

To request a copy of the full report, please email RIRS-SRGA@rcmp-grc.gc.ca

Executive summary

Cultural transformation is critical to the success of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's (RCMP) journey of Reconciliation with the Indigenous Peoples of Canada. As with all conciliatory efforts, the most formidable challenge is to mitigate the deeply-entrenched barrier of mistrust that is germane to the need for Reconciliation. This complex, multi-faceted pursuit cannot be by happenstance, nor by whim. Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, an on-going directive from Canada's current Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, is essential for all Canadians as a way of moving forward.

As such, Reconciliation needs strong, stable leadership that works in conscious, concerted ways through a national strategy that is mutually and respectfully derived with Indigenous Peoples. As a process that is entirely about, not only establishing solidarity in relationships, but also maintaining and advancing them, Reconciliation activities must be sufficiently and appropriately resourced. Healthy relationships are never self-sustaining; they need constant attention and support, the nourishment that gives them energy to develop and thrive.

This Position Paper is a roadmap for the RCMP as it undertakes the journey of Reconciliation. The process begins with truth-telling in narrations of the past which also provides a powerful release from long-standing defamation and misrepresentation of the Indigenous Peoples. As Senator Murray Sinclair, former Truth and Reconciliation of Canada (TRC) Commissioner, stated, "In order for that [Reconciliation] to happen, there has to be awareness of the past, an acknowledgement of the harm that has been inflicted, atonement for the causes, and action to change behaviour" (2015, p. 6).

From a valid, legitimate acknowledgement of the past, Indigenous and non-Indigenous people can arrive at a good place—the present—in which fresh, new beginnings can take root. This place is where Canadians recognize their responsibilities, and with a clear and collective conscience, commit to daily acts of Reconciliation. The constant reproduction of even small conciliatory moves in an orderly, strategic way leads to a future that reflects the goal of Indigenous inclusion in systemic structuring, of healing and self-representation. As well, the cultural transformation that is required of the RCMP in order to pursue Reconciliation with the First Peoples can only make the entire organization stronger and healthier, internally and externally—indeed, for all people of diversity who make Canada their home. The RCMP is ideally situated as a role model for all Canadians on how to progress with Reconciliation.

The Past

One of the main aspects of Canada's prevailing societal structures that continues to damage Indigenous-RCMP relations is the unrecognized, hidden roots of racism that were sown in this country's genesis. Colonial law-making which furthered the emerging country was enforced by the precursor of the RCMP, the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP)—with disastrous outcomes to the First Peoples. Since then, deepening scars in Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations, entrenched by the one-sidedness and fabrication of Canada's historical recordings and heritage depictions, are commonplace in daily interactions throughout this country.

The past must now be viewed in the light of strenuous truth-telling because the far-reaching, foundational roots of racism through colonialism have thrived unchecked and exponentially over the generations. Canada's intentions in its nation-building activities must be re-told in a new spirit that includes the perspectives of the First Peoples. It was their lives that were devastated by adventitious laws and regulations that impinged on their livelihoods to the point of the overwhelming impoverishment that is perpetuated in Indigenous populations.

The RCMP, an institution that has long contributed to the debasement suffered by Indigenous populations, must now move forward in positive, conciliatory ways. As an organization, it must take the steps that are founded on an examination of the historic intentions and activities that produced the status quo. As individuals within the RCMP, employees may not be aware of the foundations of the NWMP and, consequently, of the RCMP, from the perspectives of those they policed, but this is essential knowledge for why the RCMP must pursue Reconciliation. These activities have always been predominantly expressed to Canadians in dogmatic and therefore, incomplete narratives—and stand in the way of Reconciliation with those that were wronged.

The Present

The past always eventually leads to the present. No one should forget or develop amnesia about the past; the roots of Yesterday will always reach Today. The transgressions that Canada perpetrated onto the First Peoples are catching up with the collective health and well-being of all Canadians. Waiting to take action until every member of a family is infected is simply deplorable, but this is exactly what has been done. This country should never have waited so long: the first members of a family becoming ill from the directed actions of other members should never have been tolerated, let alone allowed to fester and multiply. It is today that Canadians must predominantly understand that truth must dominate over distortion and disinformation, and that, unless Reconciliation starts and progresses, relationships and conditions which are already in a state of impoverishment, can only deteriorate further.

The current federal government is actively committed to Reconciliation, and all Canadians must take this to heart as a serious and welcomed opportunity because it means life improvement for everyone, including themselves. The steps must be considered and identified to bring into fruition the outcomes that Canada sorely needs to move on, as well, into a position of being a progressive world-leader in Reconciliation—an outcome that is entirely possible with mindful motivation and dedication. Foundationally, conciliatory work must be based on spiritual aspirations—ones that recognize and interweave Reconciliation, not as a "project" or current fad, but as the only way to develop, in daily recommitments, lasting, truth-based relationships with one other. Dr. Marie Wilson, former Commissioner of the TRC, observed that Canada is "… at a cross-roads … We are a country faced with the historic opportunity to begin anew; to begin living up to both our legal obligations and our stated national values in dealing with the Indigenous peoples" (2015, p. 13).

In 2016, Canada officially withdrew its objector status in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). While not legally binding or enforceable, the Declaration provides a strong, definite framework for Reconciliation for all ministries, departments and sectors in Canada, including the RCMP. This is vitally important because the intentions of Reconciliation as a powerful, positive process start by setting goals that work at intertwining active, authentic and distinctions-based Indigenous input into Canada's values, aspirations, and purposes. As well as UNDRIP, Canadian institutions must blend in the TRC's Calls to Action (CTAs) wherein the RCMP is specifically and uniquely identified, and its independence referenced. This means that whatever the changes are in federal leadership, the RCMP will consistently produce and reproduce its own Reconciliation strategy and activities in its daily work.

The RCMP has already embarked on Reconciliation, given the apologies of several Commissioners: Zaccardelli (2004), Paulson (2016) and Lucki (2018). Apologies are never enough, however, and must be followed up with concrete and decisive action. The promises to do better and build strong, stable relationships must demonstrate authentic, substantive results. Fostering the essential element of respect even in relationships with those of dichotomous views, is core to conciliatory success. Sometimes opposing stances are very strong, such as in instances where Indigenous people work hard to protect their traditional territories from encroachment.

One way that sustainability in the RCMP's Reconciliation endeavours can be achieved is through teaching cadets at the training academy to be the new truth-seekers, the new conciliators. Staff and members in middle ranks must also be similarly and consistently apprised. They must learn from current documentation such as Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). All RCMP employees need to be cognizant of what specifically and historically has led to current Indigenous realities, including the extreme violence directed at Indigenous women and girls.

The Future

Reconciliation is more than getting at the truth and educating the public. It also emphatically involves attitudinal changes that are accompanied by appropriate, conscious activities that strengthen Indigenous and non-Indigenous relationships. Reconciliation does not happen overnight and it is not magical or wistful thinking. Indeed, tangible and visible results of work that corrects past injustices may take a long time to materialize and those involved in Reconciliation have to be prepared for that, and not become discouraged. At times, there may be severe blows to hope that builds up, but efforts must persevere and keep moving onwards. Relationship- building takes a long time especially when two distinct groups are working together.

The future includes an RCMP-specific National Strategy on Reconciliation—a formal structure that is collaborative, well-planned and well-funded—and, with clear goals and objectives that include the active conceptions of Indigenous Elders, thinkers and knowledge-keepers from all over Canada. Such a structure, once established, will be a place where Reconciliation work emanates and aligns with input from Indigenous groups. As well, it is important to note that, within the RCMP, more than 7.8% of all employees are Indigenous; this is almost 3% higher than the Indigenous population in Canada.Footnote 1 This current state of human resources is a substantial base through which the RCMP Reconciliation efforts should be engaged, provided it is adequately resourced in terms of both financial support and recognition as a valid activity that takes concerted time and energy.

Important pieces of a national strategy are a conflict resolution mechanism that reflects regional and Indigenous-specific differences and efficient, detailed partnerships that are jointly monitored, supported and demonstrate accountability. The methodological framework of a national strategy should correspond to the UNDRIP recommendations and consist of these parts:

  • Situational analysis
  • Formulation of policies and action plans
  • Implementation
  • Monitoring and regular reviewing

The RCMP is Canada's national police force, a famous symbol of this country all over the world. It is ideally placed to be the impetus for Reconciliation between Canada and the First Peoples. Keeping in mind its motto of Maintain the Right, RCMP-led Reconciliation can find alignments with Indigenous concepts of well-being and living well—that of minopimaatisiwiin. This should be a desired goal of Reconciliation for all Indigenous and non-Indigenous members of the RCMP.

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