Chief Joe Alphonse, pictured outside the Tletinqox’in band office during the 2017 wildfires, has fought his own battles with awareness surrounding Indigenous issues within the RCMP. Angie Mindus/Williams Lake Tribune file photo

History of systemic racism between RCMP and First Nations must be addressed: Chief

Recent protests spark renewed calls for police reform and healing to move forward

Leaders of the Tsilhqot’in Nation are calling on the Canadian government to address systemic racism within policing, particularly between First Nations and the RCMP.

Tribal Chair Chief Joe Alphonse is pushing for change on behalf of six Tsilhqot’in communities, located in B.C.’s Interior, following what he said has been years of trying to get the government’s and RCMP’s attention on the issue.

“We stand in solidarity with the protests against police brutality and racism against black people, Indigenous people and people of colour in the United States and Canada. Our people have been taking a stand against racism for a long time. This is not new, but recent events have provided the opportunity for our people to come forward with their experiences of injustice,” Alphonse stated in a news release.

“During the 2017 wildfires, the RCMP threatened to take our children from our homes when we refused to evacuate our community and stayed to fight the fires ourselves. They failed to understand our Indigenous rights and authority. Further, they failed to understand the sensitivity of communicating in such a manner given our people’s history with residential schools.”

Alphonse said he has been advocating for improved education and training for RCMP since the wildfires and, despite a healing circle with RCMP almost a year later in April 2018, Alphonse said it was apparent there was a lack of understanding about First Nations people in general.

Read More: Amid anti-racism protests, Trudeau promises to push police body cameras with premiers

“How can you understand about residential schools and traumas if you don’t even understand how First Nations became placed on Indian Reserves,” Alphonse added in a phone interview with Black Press Media.

Countless Indigenous people, such as Colten Boushie, Cindy Gladue and Neil Stonechild, have been victims of systemic racism, Alphonse noted.

Recent stories shared include Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in Fort McMurray who said he was beaten by officers when they had stopped him for an expired license plate outside a casino back in March.

Last week, a young Indigenous woman was killed by police following a wellness check, he noted.

Read More: Indigenous families say their loved ones’ deaths in custody are part of pattern

“There’s been no outcry and somebody has to step up to the plate and start advocating for a better life for First Nations people.”

Alphonse believes more training is needed within the RCMP so police can better identify all the underlying issues, make recommendations and improvement, and from there begin healing, he said.


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