Letter of understanding for mutual trust and respect

·4 min read

The Town of Strathmore, Strathmore RCMP and Siksika Nation took a collective step towards reconciliation by formally endorsing a shared letter of understanding.

The letter, signed during a ceremony held at the Strathmore Civic Centre on Oct. 28, establishes a framework for a relationship of mutual trust, respect, understanding and cooperation between each party.

“This letter of understanding combines a purpose in shared principles that have brought us together today and objectives that we can take to help our relationships strengthen,” said Strathmore town Councillor Bob Sobol. “It joins Siksika Nation, the Strathmore RCMP and the Town of Strathmore in important work toward reconciliation.”

The signing of the letter comes 16 months after Strathmore and Siksika first met to discuss plans to eradicate racism through education and awareness, said Sobol.

These discussions arose after the murder of Kristian Ayoungman in March 2019 following an altercation in Strathmore, explained Siksika Nation Councillor Rueben “Buck” Breaker.

After a group of Ayoungman’s family members, friends, nation leaders and other members met at the crime scene on Highway 817 to pray, they proceeded into Strathmore to hold a vigil around the lake, said Breaker.

“To our amazement, we were welcomed by a crowd of Strathmore residents who felt our pain,” he said. “It was then that we knew we weren’t alone.”

Siksika and Strathmore representatives, including Mayor Pat Fule and Sobol, then agreed to begin working together to address allegations of racism against Siksika members and other Indigenous people. They later drafted a memorandum of understanding declaring a shared commitment between the Town of Strathmore and Siksika Nation to work together for the betterment of both nation members and town residents.

Despite some protest, they forged ahead, said Breaker.

“We got a lot of resentment and resistance from members in each of our respective communities – and we still do,” he said. “But we must remain resilient and persistent, and do what we can for the safety of our people.”

The letter of understanding demonstrates to the nation a commitment to addressing systemic racism in policing constructively, noted Breaker.

“The inconsistency of the RCMP services across the county is what gets us mad,” he said. “Now as of today, our commitment to work with the Strathmore RCMP (will) show the rest of Canada that we are focusing on a solution, as opposed to working against each other.”

Signing the letter is just a start.

“It’s not just a document that will be displayed and put on the shelf; we’re going to get to work right away,” noted Breaker. “We have to make sure that this momentum, this message, leads to a lot of planning, but most importantly, a lot of action.”

One aspect of the letter is to better educate RCMP members about the challenges Siksika members face. This will be done “so they have an understanding of what our people go through and why people are angry, “he said. “That history is very important for everybody across the province, across the country, to know.”

The letter includes a commitment for all newly arrived RCMP officers to receive an orientation with Siksika elders, and for all new and existing officers to take part in a blanket exercise and one other ceremony, as suggested by Siksika Nation. It also provides a commitment for the RCMP detachment commander to work with Siksika Nation to develop options for nation members who are released from custody to access services and transportation, as required.

According to RCMP Chief Superintendent Trevor Daroux, the agreement is a framework for the RCMP to build a stronger relationship with the communities it polices.

“Through those relationships, we hope to gain the trust and confidence of the community, so we can work together to provide a better service,” he said. “The journey to reconciliation is a journey that has many paths, and this path is an important one.”

Fule voiced support for this approach.

“Throughout the history of the Northwest Mounted Police and the subsequent RCMP, many good things have happened between them and the Siksika people,” he said. “However, we cannot ignore that there also have been some serious problems, and today marks a strong step in that movement forward.

“In order to reconcile the two cultures, we need to acknowledge that mistakes have been made, and we have to use things that we’ve learned in order to improve,” added Fule.

The signing of the letter will bring the Strathmore and Siksika Nation closer together, said Siksika Councillor Wade Healy.

“For many years, the two communities have lived in separate worlds,” said Healy. “It’s high time that the two have come together through mutual respect and understanding. It’s 2020 and the whole idea of racism running rampant in rural communities is outdated, outmoded and simply unacceptable.

“With this ceremony, we’re setting the groundwork for those progressive ideas to come together so we can, once again, do what the treaties intended: to live in peace and harmony with one another.”

Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times