The RCMP Manitoba North District is turning money confiscated from criminals into positive programs for various communities and First Nations throughout their jurisdiction, which extends from Grand Rapids north to the Nunavut boundary.
Through collaboration with local leaders and residents in some of the communities in which the force provides policing services, it has secured $169,000 from Manitoba’s criminal property forfeiture fund to help support programming for youth in about 10 northern communities this year.
Established in 2009, the criminal property forfeiture fund has distributed more than $19.9 million obtained by seizing and liquidating criminal assets to initiatives that support communities, invest in youth and help victims of crime.
Manitoba North District RCMP commander Insp. Ryan Mitchell says obtaining grants for community initiatives is part of ongoing reconciliation efforts that police are making.
“I would like to think what we’ve done here, in the last couple of years, through listening and learning… is moving from a learning movement and into an action movement,” he told the Thompson Citizen. “We did some really unique, out-of-the-box ones to give back to the community.”
The north district obtained funding to support a baker’s dozen of projects and events in the communities of Thompson, Nelson House, Gillam, Tadoule Lake, Gods Lake Narrows, Churchill, Lynn Lake, Grand Rapids and the Island Lake region, as well as a multi-community workshop series aimed at elders.
Individual project and event funding ranges from a low of about $5,200 to as much as $64,000, with most in the $10,000 to $20,000 range.
Among the initiatives that received funding this year are an annual powwow for graduating students in Thompson, which got $10,000, a youth hunting camp land-based healing program in Norway House, which received $15,000, and a youth engagement program in Nelson House, supported by a $7,584 grant for the purchase of sports equipment to help prevent youth violence.
A land-based education program at the Chief Sam Cook Mahmuwee Education Centre in Split Lake received $15,600 to establish a mentorship program promoting Indigenous teachings for students at the school.
Billy Wavey, the land-based program co-ordinator at the Split Lake school, says the RCMP securing money for the program is a stepping stone in the right direction towards reconciliation, given the often troubled relationship between the police force and Indigenous Peoples through the past and up to the present day.
Traditionally, said Wavey, education was something that Indigenous youth learned from their parents and other community members by helping them.
“Setting a net, setting a trap, we didn’t learn that in school, we learned that out of school,” he said. “Those are vital, vital living skills out here and it’s important that they learn these skills.”
As important as getting the money for community projects was doing it in a collaborative way, says Staff Sgt. Shayne Smith of the RCMP Manitoba North District.
“We don’t have all the answers, as members on the ground or detachment commanders working with communities to identify and work towards addressing those problems,” he said. “Working with them to address issues that are affecting that community, I think it’s absolutely vital for us as an organization or members.”
Smith is also working to identify more people who worked with the force as Indigenous special constables in the past, assisting police with their knowledge of the land and their communities.
“A lot of our information is scattered before 1950,” he said. “I’m trying to essentially come up with a database of Indigenous special constables in Northern Manitoba.”
Smith encourages anyone who may know of a relative or community members who served as a special constable to contact their local RCMP detachment or him at the Manitoba North District, particularly if they know of someone who served prior to the 1950s that the RCMP may not have records of.
“We recognized early on that we could not do our jobs without Indigenous special constables,” he says.
Working in partnership with First Nations and their leaders on their community -building initiatives benefits everyone, Mitchell says.
“The criminal justice system in particular, I think it represents an important, maybe even vital step in the path towards reconciliation,” he said. “Together, we need to find better ways of preventing Indigenous Peoples from experiencing first contact with the criminal justice system so that people aren’t drawn into a vicious cycle of court appearances, court order breaches, return to custody and spending more time incarcerated than they are in the communities.”
The opportunity to interact with residents of the communities they serve in informal, relaxed settings is valuable for RCMP officers too, the district commander says.
“People are phoning us on their worst days, in the worst moments of their lives,” he said. “That’s when they’re dealing with us. So it’s aways a negative connotation. Some of those encounters, they can have a mental impact on some of our officers as well, when they’re just constantly dealing with the people that are in crisis.”
Giving members the chance to deliver basketballs and shoes to students, for example, and then shooting some hoops with them, helps both parties see each other in a different light.
“They’re having positive interactions from the start of their youth to while they’re growing up,” Mitchell says.