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Williams Lake RCMP officer reconnects with Nuxalk roots

Brent Vivier moved away from Bella Coola when he was 12
Williams Lake RCMP Indigenous Policing Cpl. Brent Vivier is originally from the Nuxalk Nation in Bella Coola. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

Returning home to Bella Coola Valley for the first time in almost 20 years was a “bit of a healing” journey for Williams Lake RCMP Cpl. Brent Vivier.

“We moved to Abbotsford when I was 12,” he said. “I had fond childhood memories of being in Bella Coola and it wasn’t until 2022 that I finally made it back.

He said he wanted his family to join him because he had always told his wife, Veronica, about his Bella Coola memories.

“I’d tell her I was born in Bella Coola, I lived right on the river and this is how life there was. I wanted her to visualize what I was talking about.”

While visiting he to learned how to make sluq,’ which is smoked salmon.

Rita Svisdahl showed him out to cut the salmon and how to set up the smokehouse. He helped monitor the salmon over the two days and said it was “super rewarding.”

“I felt like I’d missed out on those opportunities when I was younger.”

Vivier is the oldest son of Rachel Schooner, who is Nuxalk, and Steve Vivier, who is Tla’amin from Powell River.

He has younger brother Leo and younger sister Querida.

Childhood memories of living in Bella Coola are vivid for him.

“As a kid I remember wondering what was beyond the mountains. I was in that classic, ‘this is all I know’ and wondering what life was like out there. Did people live like this everywhere.”

He attended Bella Coola Valley Elementary and Nusatsum Elementary schools.

Even though it was a small community, he remembers it taking him forever to walk from his mom’s to his grandpa Roger Schooner’s home because there were so many relatives to stop and visit along the way.

He spent a lot of time with his grandpa at his place and getting to know the community through him.

“I would stop at houses along the way because everybody was family or everybody was a connection and I felt comfortable doing that. The space that I was travelling was minimal, but it would take me forever.”

The move to Abbotsford was a culture shock because the city was so much bigger and busier.

There were no traffic lights in Bella Coola and there he had the ability to go where he wanted.

“There was some adjustment period for sure,” he recalled.

After high school graduation, he attended the University of the Fraser Valley to study geography and criminology, with the intention of becoming a geography teacher.

That goal changed after he learned about a summer job opportunity with the RCMP Indigenous Pre-Cadet Training Program.

“At the time I was going to university and I knew I needed a summer job. I decided to put my name in the hat to take on this opportunity.”

He completed a three-week trial run at RCMP Depot Division in Regina, Sask. to see what being an officer was like, followed up by a summer job at the Chilliwack RCMP detachment, which gave him a glimpse into the life of a regular RCMP member.

From that experience he decided to go into the RCMP and in the winter of 2014 he began training to be a regular member.

He graduated from the RCMP Academy in June 2015 and got his first posting in Creston, B.C. doing general duty.

While in Creston he married Veronica who he met while in university.

After four years in Creston, he transferred to Alert Bay, B.C. to work in Indigenous policing with the Namgis First Nation and all the other communities up and down the coast near there.

While in Alert Bay, Vivier helped implement cultural training for RCMP members in Alert Bay that reoccurs every two years.

“I wrote it into the rules of the detachment and was happy to see just this past summer they took those blue prints and facilitated that training again. I think it is really impactful and I feel very passionate about it.”

The first day of the training was a classroom session with a representative from the Namgis Nation who discussed the nation’s structure, the history between their people and the government and reconciliation.

On the second day, the whole RCMP detachment went out on the water with Mike Willie who owns and operates an eco-tourism business.

Vivier had organized a day for the whole detachment to go to historically significant sites.

One of the sites was Village Island, east of Alert Bay, where the last potlatch occurred in 1921 when it was illegal.

“At that time a large amount of people were arrested for being at a potlatch and practising their culture,” Vivier said. “Hundreds of items were seized and sold and distributed all around the world. Some people were charged and some were released. It was a very prominent event in history that happened.”

Personally, it was also interesting to be stationed there because his maternal grandmother, Hannah Moody, attended residential school in Alert Bay.

“I felt very conflicted when I knew I was going to Alert Bay with what kind of effect that would have on me policing in a community where I knew my grandmother, just two generations before, was there.”

From Alert Bay he moved to 100 Mile House in 2021, and went back into general duty. In September 2022 he transferred to Williams Lake to be the senior constable with Indigenous Policing, replacing Eric Chrona who transferred to the Okanagan.

He believes his time in Alert Bay allowed him to see more clearly the value of culture and spirituality.

“It wasn’t until going out to Alert Bay that I was having flashbacks of my childhood and being back out on the coast and realizing the value in trying to be more balanced professionally, personally and culturally,” he said. “There was such a big break for me from my culture.”

As a child he was given the Nuxalk name Xiku, which means dragonfly.

He remembers hearing stories, hearing the traditional language and attending potlatches.

“When I moved to the city it all just abruptly ended and stopped and wasn’t part of my life.”

He and Victoria have a daughter, 5, and a son, 3, and a two-year old dog, making for a busy household he said.

Now that he has children, he wants to make sure they have Indigenous culture in their lives.

“I want to give them opportunities to participate in culture no matter where they are. You can learn and experience no matter where you are and there is value in that.”

He doesn’t want them to have to catch up like he has, he added.

Vivier enjoys working in Williams Lake with Indigenous policing.

He coordinates the resources for the constables working with Williams Lake First Nation, Esk’et, Xat’sull First Nation and Stswecem’c Xget’tem First Nation.

“I feel passionate about fostering a better relationship between the police and Indigenous communities,” he said. “Everybody knows there a history, and a negative one.”

As a young person he was raised to be standoffish or have a guard up and not trust police, he said.

“I recall my brother and I running into my grandpa’s place when the police were coming and watching them go by and then going back outside again.”

In Abbotsford, a police officer showed up one day when Vivier was playing hockey, and he remembers being immediately concerned.

“The police officer only wanted to say ‘hello’ and play hockey for a couple of minutes and I thought it was weirdest thing. Why was he doing that? It was very impactful.”

Twenty years later he appreciates that interaction and said he is in a position to help youth and adults in communities to help them have a positive exchange with a police officer.

He hopes to build rapport and relationships and provide a police service that is inclusive and one that anyone in the community can interact with.

When he is not working, both he and Veronica love to play and coach soccer.

“It’s something we have always enjoyed. It helps us make inroads into the community. Community is important to us and we try and be as much a part of the community as we can,” Vivier said.

Another hope is now that they are geographically closer to Bella Coola it won’t take another 20 years for him to visit there.

“I would like to go more often and work on rebuilding my connections.”

READ MORE: VIDEO: Repatriated Nuxalk totem pole convoy receives warm welcome in Cariboo Chilcotin

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Monica Lamb-Yorski

About the Author: Monica Lamb-Yorski

Monica Lamb-Yorski has covered news for the Williams Lake Tribune since November 2011.
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