In what participants are calling a historic event, RCMP in Strathmore has signed a letter of understanding with the Siksika First Nation and the town of Strathmore to address systemic racism of First Nations by law enforcement.

The letter, signed at the Strathmore Civic Centre on Wednesday, is the latest in a series of efforts by the town and the First Nation to address racial tensions after a 24-year-old man from Siksika was shot and killed as he headed home from Strathmore in 2019.

Two men from Strathmore are set to stand trial for his murder.

In a press release, Siksika Chief Ouray Crowfoot said he realized there was issues of systemic racism within the RCMP regarding the treatment of First Nations.

“We recognize there is a lot of work to be done to address many of these concerns we have regarding equitable treatment to our people,” Crowfoot said. “We are optimistic that this letter of understanding between Siksika Nation, Omahksikoki (Strathmore) and the RCMP will be a stepping stone towards equitable treatment, mutual understanding and better working relationships.

“We want to build bridges instead of walls.”

Crowfoot was unable to attend the signing ceremony. Breaker attended in his absence.

“So today is going to be historic, but it’s a must, we must show our people that we are going to work together for the benefit and safety of our people of Siksika,” said Siksika Coun. Ruben Breaker.

Siksika Coun. Ruben Breaker says the First Nation felt it was time to turn its attention to systemic racism towards Indigenous people by law enforcement. (CBC News)

An opening prayer was performed by Siksika Nation elder Francis Wolfleg, followed by remarks from Breaker, Southern Alberta District RCMP Chief Superintendent Trevor Daroux and Strathmore Mayor Pat Fule.

Daroux said this is the first letter of its kind that he’s aware of in this part of the province.

“To make change you really have to have relationships between people, and this IOU provides that opportunity to build stronger relationships between RCMP members and the people of Siksika Nation,” Daroux said. “That’s why this is such an important event for us.”

Fule spoke about the importance of the agreement.

“We recognize that we can improve things for our Siksika friends and neighbours within the realm of policing experiences,” Fule said. “I am a staunch believer in the power of admitting when you are wrong, especially when there are wrongs that can be righted.”

Goals of the letter

Since the death of the 24-year-old man from Siksika in March 2019, Siksika and Strathmore leadership have been holding regular meetings to try to build bridges.

Breaker said now that the two communities have developed a stronger foundation, the First Nation felt it was time to turn its attention to systemic racism towards Indigenous people by law enforcement.

This letter of understanding sets out a number of objectives to address that issue.

One of the goals is to educate RCMP officers about intergenerational trauma among Indigenous people by working with Siksika elders.

“There’s so much ignorance where they say, ‘Get over it.’ That’s the worst thing you could tell us First Nation people, because a lot of us still live with it, because it’s in our blood,” Breaker said.

Cultural ceremonies

RCMP will also be expected to attend different cultural ceremonies within the first six months of working. For example, one ceremony called a blanket exercise involves participants standing on blankets that symbolize the land inhabited by Indigenous people that eventually became Canada.

Another of the shared objectives is to develop options for Siksika members who are released from custody to access services and transportation as required.

“It’s not just a document we are going to sign and put on a shelf, we’re going to get to work right away,” Breaker said. “So it’s not reconciliation, it’s reconcili-action.”

Daroux said his members have been asking for guidance on better ways to serve both Strathmore and Siksika and said this is a good start.

“The true value in this comes in the work that comes after and so we’ve already started some of that work and we are looking forward to doing more.”

And Daroux said he hopes to see more agreements of this type develop between RCMP and other First Nation communities.