The Blood Tribe Police Service (BTPS) on Kainai Nation in southern Alberta is taking steps to combat human trafficking in its community by naming Senior Const. Jennaye Norris its first human trafficking coordinator.
BTPS said the position is first of its kind for a First Nation Indigenous policing service in Canada.
Norris, who's been with BTPS for over eight years, will act as a one-person human trafficking unit called Project Kokomi-Kisomm Aakii in Blackfoot, which translates to Project Moon Woman.
Norris initially approached BTPS chief Brice Iron Shirt in January about establishing the role after working through the community's opioid crisis and noticing that human trafficking was a prevalent issue.
"I was getting intel about Blood Tribe girls getting trafficked, [being] taken off the reserve [by] non-nation members [to] cities like Lethbridge, Calgary, Red Deer, Edmonton, and then brought back or not brought back at all," Norris said.
"[Trafficking] has been here, you know, probably forever. But unfortunately, we just didn't have anyone specifically trained in this."
Norris' role will help tackle human trafficking on Kainai Nation in three different ways — by spreading awareness and educating community members, training front-line police officers and leading investigations — the Blood Tribe said in an announcement on Thursday.
Norris feels honoured to take on the role, and said that Blackfoot culture and tradition will be incorporated as a part of the recovery process for victims.
"This is a huge problem. We need to help our own girls and our community members safely exit this sex trafficking lifestyle."
More needs to be done to protect the young people in the community, said Blood Tribe member and elder Jackie Bromley, who is a cultural advisor for the Awo Taan Healing Lodge Society in Calgary.
"To hear how dangerous it is, that is scary. We need to learn about things like this," said Bromley.
While human trafficking is pervasive across Canada, Indigenous women and girls are affected at disproportionate levels.
In March, the Alberta government accepted the recommendations of the Alberta Human Trafficking Task Force, which released a report after consulting with nearly 100 experts and survivors, a process which took nearly two years to complete.
Prevalent, but hard to track
In 2019, police reported 511 incidents of human trafficking in Canada and 31 in Alberta, but Norris said the nature of the crime makes it incredibly difficult to collect data.
"Everyone is really stats driven but unfortunately this is such an undetected crime. [Victims] are so brainwashed into not coming forward or not trusting the police," Norris said
Dr. Esther Tailfeathers, a family physician and member of the Blood Tribe on Kainai Nation, said she knows women in her community who have been lured into the sex trade through human trafficking.
"Naively lured by thinking a male was paying attention to them, actually [helping] them out of their situation," she said.
For Norris, taking on the role of human trafficking coordinator on top of general policing duties isn't a promotion — there's no extra funding for the role. That doesn't matter, though.
"You can't just sit on it. And if it means for now, doing it off the side of my desk, I'm more than willing to do that."