Monfwi MLA concerned ‘a lot of trust has been broken’ between RCMP and Indigenous women

Monfwi MLA Jane Weyallon Armstrong is concerned that there is a growing rift between Indigenous women and members of the RCMP.

“There’s not enough trust,” she told NNSL Media on April 9. “A lot of trust has been broken.”

Weyallon Armstrong, who represents the four Tlicho communities of Behchoko, Whati, Gameti and Wekweeti, first broached her concern about the distrust between some Indigenous women and NWT police during the Feb. 29 session of the legislative assembly.

She contended at the time that, over the years, women in her communities have told her stories about mistreatment at the hands of the RCMP, including “having their hair pulled” and their “wrists fractured by excessive use of force.”

“It’s happening,” she added in April. “They’re being mishandled.”

Beyond the risk of physical injury, Weyallon Armstrong noted that negative interactions with the police officers can be “triggering” for many Indigenous women thanks to the lasting legacy of residential schools and colonialism.

“There’s a lot of unresolved issues, a lot of unresolved trauma,” she said. “When [Indigenous women] are having an encounter with a law officer, a lot of those things come back.”

These alleged incidents also make Indigenous women reluctant to call the police when they experience issues that would typically involve police intervention, the MLA said, noting that “a lot of times people don’t report anything.”

She also contended that it can be quite worrying for Indigenous women when their friends and family have interactions with the police.

“When their kids are sleeping in the drunk tank overnight, [they wonder] are they going to come out alive?” she said. “Are things going to be OK?

“A lot of parents are fearful.”

Weyallon Armstrong emphasized that “there are good RCMP” officers serving the NWT who want to “help and work with Indigenous people.” She contended that the alleged incidents she’s heard about typically involve younger officers who are newer to the region, and that female officers can be just as “brutal” as their male counterparts.

“The younger ones, they don’t really understand our culture,” she said. “The older ones, I think they’re starting to see because they’ve been in the force for a long time, so they really understand, but the new, young RCMP that are coming in, it’s different.”

Weyallon Armstrong is aware that RCMP officers in the NWT undergo “sensitivity training and cultural training.” However, she wonders how much of the material relayed in that training is really being absorbed.

“Are they really taking in that information, or is it going in one ear and out the other? I don’t think it’s happening,” she said.

The MLA would like to see new officers in the NWT undergo additional training, and also believes it’s crucial for those officers to work as closely as possible with their communities in an effort to rebuild trust.

“The RCMP needs to have a good, working relationship with the communities,” she said. “They need to be more involved in what [Indigenous] people are doing.

“Interact with the people. Interact in a positive term, instead of negatively, thinking that because a community is rough and tough, you have to come in with a negative attitude.”

She added that she would like to see more Indigenous people, specifically Indigenous women, hired into roles with the RCMP.

“We will really benefit from that,” she said. “We haven’t had too many [Indigenous officers]. If we have that, they will teach each other.”

One way or the other, the Monfwi MLA wants the women in the communities she represents to know that she is listening, and that she will help them however she can.

“We are here for them, and we do sympathize with them,” she said. “Don’t be silent.”

The RCMP declined to respond to Weyallon Armstrong’s concerns, citing the need to a review a 100-page research report from the Yellowknife Women’s Society (YKWS), which contends that unhoused Indigenous women in the city are “over-policed and under-protected by the RCMP.”

Weyallon Armstrong’s comments and the YKWS report are “intertwined,” RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Matt Halstead said, and a response to both will be made when the report has been “fully considered.”

Tom Taylor, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, NWT News/North