A mural at Edmonton Police Service (EPS) headquarters honouring the history of Papaschase First Nation is an important symbolic gesture, but there must be concrete action to rebuild trust between the police and Indigenous communities, says Papaschase Chief Calvin Bruneau.
The mural, painted by Metis artist Jordan Ernst, was unveiled on June 21 — National Indigenous Peoples Day — at a ceremony attended by Bruneau, an Elder and EPS leadership, which included drumming and singing.
The spray painted portrait depicts a woodpecker, which is what Papaschase means in Cree.
Bruneau told Alberta Native News that the EPS first reached out to him about displaying a mural portraying Papaschase’s history “to acknowledge us, honour our history and our band.”
The event was initially scheduled for June 2, but band leadership thought it would be more appropriate for it to occur on National Indigenous Peoples Day, which coincides with Summer Solstice.
An EPS member who was corresponding with Bruneau recommended Ernst, who painted another mural for the service last year.
“I took pictures with it yesterday, and it’s a beautiful mural. This guy is talented,” Bruneau said.
Assistant Insp. Paul Looker said in a promotional video that the mural is “another step forward to remind our members of the strong relationships that we have with the First Nations and the work we do with them.”
The EPS doesn’t necessarily have the strongest relationship with Indigenous Edmontonians, as exemplified by the case of Pacey Dumas, an Indigenous teenager who required the removal of a large part of his skull after he was kicked in the head by an EPS officer while lying on the ground in December 2020.
Bruneau said incidents like these demonstrate why there’s so much distrust between Indigenous people and the EPS, but the EPS acknowledging that their headquarters is on Indigenous land is an important first step towards repairing their relationship.
“[Police] need to understand who our people are. There needs to be [a greater] level of respect on their part, because of the stereotypes already out there. I think that influences some of these officers and how they deal with our people,” Bruneau said.
He said the superintendents he spoke with after the ceremony expressed interest in recruiting more young Indigenous officers, potentially setting up a tipi outside headquarters, and sending officers to a sweat lodge to get a better understanding of Indigenous cultural practices.
Only through understanding Indigenous history and culture can police “make better decisions when it comes to dealing with” Indigenous people, Bruneau added.
“It was a good first step in acknowledging the Papaschase First Nation here in Edmonton. That’s showing respect, and an acknowledgement of who we are and our ancestors’ place in history here,” he said.
“Now let’s try and think of ways to move forward and improve relations with our people here in Edmonton.”
By Jeremy Appel, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Jun 29, 2023