SIKSIKA, Alta.- The Siksika Nation has reached a deal with the provincial and federal governments to reinstate the First Nation’s self-administered police service after 20 years.
The agreement follows a historic settlement with the federal government that provided $1.3 billion in compensation to the Siksika Nation to resolve outstanding land claims.
The nation, located about 130 kilometres east of Calgary, had its own police service from 1992 to 2002. However, the 10-year agreement with the federal and provincial governments that established the organization wasn’t renewed due to lack of funding.
Calls for Indigenous policing have increased over the years, with growing concerns over long response times.
“That critical time can be the difference between survival or going to the morgue,” Siksika Chief Ouray Crowfoot said in an interview Friday.
Although long response times have been an issue for the First Nation, Crowfoot said that having their own police service will also deter crime and foster a greater sense of community.
“Not seeing the police as an enemy, not seeing the police as them, but seeing the police as one of us, I know that Siksika is going to be a safer place,” Crowfoot said.
“It’s not just about getting our policing back, it’s about creating that quality of life.”
Crowfoot said Siksika is starting to train new officers and hopes to have the police service fully operational in the next couple of years.
He added that since 2018, Siksika’s public safety task force “pushed hard” to get the police service back.
In a statement Friday, the office of the federal minister of public safety said the transition to the self-administered police service for the Siksika Nation is the first in Canada in 14 years.
Alberta Justice Minister Tyler Shandro said the province “unequivocally supports self-administered First Nations policing.”
“The Siksika Nation is ready and prepared to take this critical step and become the fourth self-administered First Nation police service in Alberta,” he said in a statement Friday.
The governing United Conservative Party has proposed establishing a provincial police force to better service rural communities in Alberta. Shandro’s office said if it happens, the province would work with First Nations and municipalities make sure local police services have more resources.
Crowfoot said the recent stabbing rampage in a Saskatchewan First Nation and nearby village earlier this month underscores the importance of community policing.
James Smith Cree Nation Chief Wally Burns has said having a police service in the community would have helped prevent the stabbings that claimed the lives of 10 people and injured 18 others.
Two suspects also died. Burns also said the response time after the attacks was too late. the RCMP has said it took 35 minutes for officers dispatched from Melfort, Sask., to arrive at the first scene 45 kilometres away.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2022.
-By Angela Amato in Edmonton
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.