The Blood Tribe Police Service on the Kainai reserve now has a strong rapport with its community members.
However, during their 30 years of being in operation, that hasn’t always been the case.
“There definitely was a time in our history where we wouldn’t get invited to community events, maybe not so welcome (there), but now we’re one of the hosts of community events, we host a ton of (them) and now we do get consistent invites,” said Inspector Farica Prince with the Blood Tribe Police.
What has changed is their approach to policing and the non-violent methods they consistently use to interact with others.
“Our mandate is not to come into the community and tell them how we’re going to police them..our mission is to provide a public safety service to the community in the way that they want, and our organization has had a proud change in the last five, six years,” Prince said.
She says their use of force reports have been down as they have been refining their policing tactics in recent years by focusing on verbal communication with residents, keeping up with community engagement, and building trust.
Prince, who has been with the Blood Tribe police since 2005, is Indigenous, but she comes from the Dakota Nation in southwestern Manitoba and had to learn about the traditions of the Kainai people when she first arrived in Southern Alberta.
She says although there are similarities between the various First Nations communities across Canada, there are important differences in customs and language.
Her colleague, Moila Aokuso, is a Samoan Indigenous constable and prior to joining the force, he had never lived on a reserve, since he grew up in the metropolitan city of Sydney, Australia.
“During my first interviews with my inspector, well, she asked me the question: “What do you know about First Nations people?” And I honestly told her I don’t know much,” Aokuso explained.
“She gave me the opportunity to write an essay, to do homework and to study,” he said.
Aokuso says he always keeps that experience at the forefront of his mind, adding that learning about the Blackfoot people helped him understand their way of life and overcome his own culture shock.
Aokuso says learning about residential schools and colonialism allowed him to feel compassion towards the people who share a similar history to his own heritage.
“So now, everyday when I go about my duties as a constable, I see them first as human beings. Everyone struggles with different addictions, different struggles of life,” Aokuso stated.
He adds he and his colleagues always try to understand where someone is coming from first, before using any type of force when responding to calls in the field.
From his experience, he says, this method works best.
“I respond to calls where people are elevated and their stress levels are high and I know in my experience when I’m pretty stressed, the last thing I want is for someone to meet me at that same level,” Aokuso said.
The force says they work with neighboring RCMP detachments regularly and have also trained with the Lethbridge police in the past.
Medical lead on the reserve, Dr. Esther Tailfeathers, has worked in Standoff for 20 years and has witnessed first-hand the police becoming allies of the community.
“I’ve seen Kyle Melting Tallow, who’s the Chief of Police (for the Blood Tribe Police Service) be involved in a lot of the efforts we’ve made to combat the opioid crisis and i think they’ve done a really good job of reaching out to community members, recognizing that drug addiction is not necessarily… a criminal act,” Dr. Tailfeathers said.
Dr. Tailfeathers says the police have also been very involved with a campaign they started, which teaches people struggling with drug addiction on the reserve how to use naloxone, a medication used to block the effects of opioids.
She says many officers are trained in using the substance.
With the police appreciating the social determinants that lead to addiction, such as poverty, lack of adequate housing and poor mental health, Dr. Tailfeathers says the force works hard to avoid further stigmatizing their most vulnerable members.
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