Rash of violence prompts Maskwacis to push for its own First Nations police force

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Rash of violence prompts Maskwacis to push for its own First Nations police force

Leaders from Maskwacis have asked the Alberta government to help the community establish its own First Nations police force to work alongside the RCMP.

Representatives from the Samson Cree band council met Tuesday with Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley at the Alberta legislature.

They want the province to fund the police force in a 50/50 cost share with Ottawa.

After the meeting, Ganley said the province will review the proposal.

"They had some significant concerns that some members on the nation were potentially afraid, like some people were afraid to come forward and talk about gang violence," Ganley said. "They are expecting that greater integration of the service into the community might alleviate some of that."

Maskwacis, 95 kilometres south of Edmonton, includes the Samson Cree Nation, Ermineskin Cree Nation, Louis Bull Tribe and Montana First Nation.

The death in Edmonton of Maskwacis toddler Anthony Raine has left many in the central-Alberta community feeling heartsick, said Samson Cree Nation Coun. Kirk Buffalo. The boy's body was found outside a north Edmonton church on April 21. Two people are facing charges.

"We are in crisis mode," he said. "I will not bury another youth through suicide or violence, as the whole country saw with this eighteen-month-old."

A few days after the toddler's death, shots were fired at a home in Maskwacis. A woman was struck at least twice while asleep in bed, and remains in hospital in serious condition.

RCMP are also investigating an April 13 incident where shots were fired at another home. No one in that home was injured.

"Another drive by shooting, another homicide, another suicide," said Buffalo. "Doesn't that bring a red flag to say there is something wrong?"

Government reviewing proposal

A key theme of the presentation was a call for the province to help the community establish its own police force.

"Because it's our people, our people understand our people," said Luci Johnson, a court worker for the Samson Cree Nation who also attended the meeting.

The Blood Tribe in southern Alberta already has its own police force. Johnson said that model led officials in Maskwacis to consider the idea.

A critical part of the mandate for the police force would be to concentrate on community policing, to build relationships with families, Johnson said.

She said the plan presented to the government is not a criticism of the RCMP, which currently polices the area, but is seen as a way for the community to address its own problems.

"How do we help our community?" Johnson asked. "The first thing is to admit we have an issue."

No one from the RCMP was available Tuesday to discuss the proposal.

The idea is one of several that Maskwacis leaders put on the table with the province.

Another request was made for additional funding to allow the community's elders to create more spiritual and cultural programming.

"Nobody can really save us but ourselves," Johnson said. "We have a beautiful culture. We have to start instilling those cultural values."

She said the community's elders provide knowledge and guidance to people now for little or no money.

Buffalo said the band intends to make the same proposal to Ottawa. He said he considers the meeting with the Alberta government as the start of a new relationship.

"We will help heal our community," he said. "One day at a time."