Indigenous cultural educators say the invitation to 'walk in our moccasins' is open to anyone

·3 min read

Tracy Cloud can still remember the eruption on social media in response to the behaviour of a high-ranking Edmundston police officer who appeared to laugh when a reporter asked him a question about the shooting death of Chantel Moore.

"It was shared many times over and over within our communities," said Cloud, a member of Metepenagiag First Nation. "There was just an explosion of many comments and of course, none of them were positive."

Cloud says she's puzzled as to why the officer wasn't directed to participate in a localized cultural training program in response to a complaint filed against him by TJ Burke, the lawyer who represents Chantel Moore's estate.

According to Burke, Insp. Steve Robinson has been ordered by the Edmundston police chief to take the Indigenous Canada course available online through the University of Alberta.

Submitted by Tracy Cloud
Submitted by Tracy Cloud

Cloud is puzzled as to why the police are not using resources closer to home.

She says the nine Mi'kmaw communities of New Brunswick, under the non-profit umbrella organization Mi'gmawe'l Tplu'taqnn Inc., or MTI, do have programs that explain treaty principles and their historical context.

"In fact, this afternoon, we have a treaty session with about 85 people that will be happening through one of the federal government departments," said Cloud.

The MTI also offers a regional variation of a teaching tool known as the blanket exercise.

That's when a group of people, for example, a class of high school students, would gather in one room and stand in a space where the floor is covered with blankets that represent the land inhabited by Indigenous people that eventually became Canada.

Participants read about chapters of Indigenous history, including the impact of disease, poverty, residential schools and the Indian Act. Progressively, they themselves are increasingly confined to fewer blankets and less space or rejected altogether from the circle.

"We have people walking away in tears," said Cloud. "People who say, 'Had I known, I could have done better."

Cloud says the cost to facilitate a program depends on factors such as preparation time, staff time and travel expenses.

"The exercise is just a couple of hours long. People are able to put their feet in our moccasins for that brief moment and reflect on generations and hundreds of years of history and what Indigenous people have gone through."

Gary Moore/CBC News file photo
Gary Moore/CBC News file photo

Cloud says MTI has been trying to get more people involved, including non-governmental agencies.

"Really, anyone who's willing to have us in, we're happy to provide the discussion."

Education shouldn't be discipline

Lawyer Derek Simon, who works as legal counsel for MTI, says education shouldn't be used as a sanction.

"I work for the Mi'kmaw chiefs in New Brunswick and they've been advocating for some time now for cultural awareness and treaty training and treaty education for all police officers in New Brunswick. They feel that's something that all officers should be receiving as a matter of course and not as discipline for bad behaviour," said Simon.

In addition to completing the online course, Burke says Robinson must also meet with a Wolostoqi elder to discuss what he discovered on his journey for knowledge.

Simon says it's a good idea but "sits wrong as a sanction."

"It's something that should be a standardized part of the police experience," he said.

Rachel Cave/CBC
Rachel Cave/CBC

Simon says the Mi'kmaw chiefs want to see Indigenous representation on the New Brunswick police commission.

They also want every police department to have an elder they can turn to, who can provide guidance.

"So instead of this one officer being singled out and told, 'You've done a bad thing, go speak to an elder about it,' this is something that should be provided as a cultural resource on an ongoing basis," said Simon.

CBC News did ask to speak to Edmundston police Chief Alain Lang but he declined to be interviewed. A spokesperson for his office explained that Lang would not comment because under the New Brunswick Police Act (NBPA), disciplinary and corrective measures are confidential.