Îyârhe Nakoda First Nation elder Henry Holloway speaks during a town hall to discuss a new tri-services building in Mînî Thnî, which would house a hybrid RCMP and Indigenous police force, along with fire and EMS. The town hall was hosted Thursday (Nov. 16) at the Mînî Thnî Gymnasium.Jungmin Ham/Rocky Mountain Outlook

Many community members support a new tri-services building for fire and EMS but are hesitant about proposed changes to a policing model that would be introduced at the new facility in Mînî Thnî.  

During a town hall Thursday (Nov. 16), some expressed approval for Stoney Tribal Council’s proposed hybrid RCMP and Indigenous police model. However, worries about potential police overreach, due to an anticipated rise in officer presence, raised doubts about the change – an issue already viewed as problematic by some in the community.

“We have a big challenge on our hands. But here we have an opportunity and a proposal and an area for developing our own police for the convenience of the people,” said elder Henry Holloway. “Our people here – the Stoney Nakoda … there’s hardly any communication with chiefs and council that will help progress developments going on the reserve.

“We need to have more meetings like this so people will know what’s going on.”

At the meeting, at which only one Stoney councillor was present, Holloway highlighted issues regarding how RCMP handles traffic enforcement on private roads within Îyârhe Nakoda First Nation under the provincial Traffic Safety Act. He argued while traffic stops can play a crucial role in law enforcement and apprehending drug traffickers, for example, RCMP jurisdiction should be re-evaluated to better align with and acknowledge Indigenous rights and autonomy.

“Some poor guy’s trying to get to the store to get groceries. He’s got no insurance, he’s got no license, he’s travelling on an old wagon trail road he’s always used to go to the store,” said Holloway, illustrating an instance where a Nation member can face penalties under current enforcement practices.

“He gets pulled over and gets a ticket for $100, $200 for leaving the house to buy a loaf of bread.”

The elder, who is also a former chief, called for a review of the Nation’s bylaws and what is enforced by RCMP so the Nation can adopt its own set of laws catered to the needs and cultural sensitivities of the First Nation community. He noted Indigenous communities often have distinct values, traditions, and ways of life that may not be fully addressed or understood by colonial authorities.

“We need to clarify that for the people, we need to define what laws are being enforced on this reserve, and we need to work with the RCMP to understand,” said Holloway. “I’m not against the RCMP doing their job, but laws have to be fair to the people that live here.”

Travis Jimmy John, who was at the town hall with his partner Ronine Ryder, said it’s important to understand that before colonial contact, the Nation had its own way of governing.

“It was structured completely different compared to what the justice system is now,” he said. “So, if we want to do this right, we have to be able to come together and try to utilize what we know as our customs from pre-contact and eventually create our own constitution.

“Once that constitution is in place, that’s our flag to say we’re sovereign; that we can govern ourselves, and in a time of reconciliation.”

Nakoda Emergency Services director Reg Fountain hosted the town hall to help provide background on plans for the proposed change to policing, as well as for feedback on the suggested site of the facility off Mînî Thnî Road, south of the townsite. 

He said the Nation’s tribal council entered into a funding agreement with Public Safety Canada for the construction of a new RCMP and tribal policing facility in 2021. About 52 per cent of the estimated $7 million policing portion of the tri-services facility would be funded by Public Safety Canada, while the other 48 per cent would be funded by the Nation. Currently, the Nation is served by a satellite detachment of Cochrane RCMP, which opened in 2019.

The new facility would have a sergeants’ detachment of between 14-16 RCMP officers, with a long-term plan to train Nation members to form an Indigenous police force working side-by-side with RCMP. Eventually, if all goes to plan, the tribal police force could entirely phase out RCMP.

The facility would have holding cells, an interview room and give officers the ability to store police vehicles on-site, without having to run back and forth to Cochrane at the start and end of a shift. 

“It would have everything the RCMP or tribal police force would need to do the job on the Nation, for the Nation,” said Fountain. “You would not have to leave the community for victim services. If you needed to have a discussion with the RCMP in confidence, you would not have to go to Cochrane.”

The focus, Fountain stressed, would be on training Nation members interested in policing the community.

In a statement sent on behalf of Public Safety Canada, RCMP media relations officer Cpl. Troy Savinkoff, who was formerly based in Cochrane and involved in setting up the satellite detachment in Mînî Thnî, confirmed a modular facility is being discussed.

“The Nation had shared future plans to build the proposed RCMP modular building on a tri-service complex (EMS, fire and RCMP) however details of the RCMP detachment build have yet to be confirmed and no formal agreement is in place,” he noted.

Fountain, who oversees EMS and fire operations with Nakoda Emergency Services, said construction of the fire hall – estimated at a cost of about $7.5 million, would be funded entirely by Indigenous Services Canada, in accordance with an agreement with the agency. 

The Nation currently has its own 12-hour fire service, which Fountain noted is insufficient for the needs of the community of about 5,000 people. The new facility and required staffing changes would enable fire services to operate 24/7.

“We would no longer have to rely on Exshaw to provide fire services to the Nation after 8 p.m.,” he said, referring to the Nation’s mutual aid agreement with the MD of Bighorn, where the Exshaw fire department is located 31 kilometres away from Mînî Thnî.

As for construction of the EMS portion of the tri-services facility, it will be funded by the Nation, while Alberta Health Services will pay rent to operate from the facility and offset operating costs.

“No longer would local emergency medical services have to see to that additional support from outside EMS agencies after 8 p.m.,” Fountain added. 

Nakoda Emergency Services (NES) director Reg Fountain give a presentation about the tri-services building construction at the public hearing on tri-services building for Îyârhe Nakoda First Nation hosted by Mînî Thnî town hall at the Mînî Thnî Gymnasium on Thursday (Nov. 16). JUNGMIN HAM RMO PHOTO

While many expressed support for enhancing fire and EMS response, the location proposed for the new facility is upsetting for Ryder, whose late mother, Patricia Ryder, resided in the area before she died in 2022.

Fountain shared chiefs and council looked at a few sites, and so far, a parcel of land that offers egress to Mînî Thnî Road and is adjacent to the Trans-Canada Highway, is felt suitable based on factors such as accessibility, topography, accessibility to utilities and impact to the community. 

Before initiating any preliminary testing or development activities in the area, Fountain said the land underwent a blessing ceremony. Additionally, residents living within a one-kilometre radius were provided with a letter and a one-time $300 compensation to address any inconvenience from nearby surveying activities.

Protective services visited all 41 homes within the area, of which 13 were found to be occupied, to provide the letter, compensation and hear any concerns or comments about the site being looked at. 

“Due diligence was done and provided,” said Fountain. “Should we have missed something, we are happy to go back and revisit that at any time.”

Ryder said staff missed her mother’s house, where she was raised. 

“I grew up there,” she said, her voice breaking. “You guys overlooked us.”

Ryder explained her brother lives at the residence now, but her mother was still living in the home and raising three children when she died. 

Ryder and Jimmy John now have guardianship of the children at their home in Eden Valley, but Ryder said the children want to return one day and have plans to build their own homes on the same lands. For her own biological children, Ryder wants them to have that option, too. 

In an interview with the Outlook after the town hall, Ryder said she only recently learned about the facility proposal for the land when someone called her after seeing a poster about the town hall meeting at the Stoney Tribal Administration building.

Based on some of the steps already taken to determine feasibility of the site, she said she feels it may be a done deal.

“I think it’s going to be a go because they’re saying it’s easy access to water, piping and everything,” she said.

“But what are they going to offer us? Are they willing to give us more than just $300? That’s not gonna last a lifetime.”

Fountain said protective services would circle back with Ryder and much more community engagement is anticipated before any final decisions are made on the facility and proposed site. He also noted the decision ultimately rests with the Nation and its chiefs and council.

“If you believe that your family has been or would be harmed by this and that the facility should not be built, then please speak to your council.

“I work for chiefs and council and the Stoney Nakoda people. The decision is not mine. It is theirs and the peoples.”

By Jessica Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Nov 24, 2023 at 10:52

This item reprinted with permission from   Rocky Mountain Outlook   Canmore, Alberta

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