Tl’etinqox, RCMP make steps toward reconciliation

When Tl’etinqox Government defied its evacuation order last summer the RCMP threatened to remove children

The RCMP and Tl’etinqox (Anaham) Government are taking steps to reconcile after almost coming to blows during last summer’s wildfires.

When the Alexis Creek RCMP were assisting with the evacuation of the community in July, they were faced with resistance from Chief Joe Alphonse and threats of removal of children were issued, the Tsihlqot’in National Government communications manager Myanna Desaulniers noted in a joint press release issued Monday by the Tl’etinqox Government and the RCMP.

“Chief Alphonse responded with equal threats proclaiming that if the RCMP tried to remove their children they would be met with bullets flying over their heads.”

In an effort to rebuild their relationship, 21 people from Tl’etinqox and 13 RCMP members participated in a healing circle Monday at Tl’etinqox where they agreed to work together on rebuilding trust and to learn from last summer.

“There were five officers from the Alexis Creek detatchment, both of their front desk clerks, the victim services worker and five senior officials from Williams Lake and from the Lower Mainland,” said Tl’etinqox’s director of social services and justice Kaitlin O’Toole. “From Tl’etinqox we had Chief Joe, 10 councillors, three elders who are matriarchs, four senior level staff involved with the incident and three observers.”

O’Toole said the healing circle was initiated by both sides who began talking soon after the incident in the summer.

There was a recognition that the relationship needed to be repaired, but both Tl’etinqox and the RCMP were focused on the wildfires.

“There was also a lot of pre-work,” O’Toole explained. “We initiated the dialogue in late November and it’s taken that much time to hire our facilitator Chasity Davis from Vancouver, and have her come out and lead us through separate meetings.”

Davis was a neutral party agreed upon by both parties and she worked with both sides to make sure they were ready to participate in the healing circle in a positive way.

Alphonse said as the community’s leader he thinks it is important to maintain a good relationship with the RCMP and the healing circle was a way to begin developing it.

“There’s been a lot of tension since the 2017 fire and the incident between myself and an officer from Alexis Creek,” he told the Tribune. “It was the first time for a lot of people to be involved in such a thing and there was a lot of anxiety.”

The healing circle, he added, strengthened the community’s relationship with the RCMP, he added.

A good relationship with the RCMP directly affects the safety, health, and wellness of the community’s most vulnerable and valuable citizens — its women and children, he said.

“The treatment from the Alexis Creek RCMP last summer during the wildfires is unacceptable and will not be tolerated by Tl’etinqox Government,” he added.

Staff Sgt. Troy Durand, RCMP North District RCMP advisory Cariboo Chilcotin, said the situation that took place during the unprecedented B.C. wildfires last summer between RCMP officers and Tl’etinqox Government was unfortunate.

“We have been working hard to repair this important relationship ever since,” Durand said. “The Alexis Creek RCMP Detachment has enhanced its local knowledge by taking part in Indigenous Awareness Training knowledge specific to Canada and Tsilhqot’in Nation.”

O’Toole said during the healing circle, the RCMP talked about the training as being very impactful and powerful for them.

The RCMP remain committed to finding ways that will continue to build trust and confidence with Tl’etinqox Government and the community, Durand said.

“It is important that we not only reconcile what’s happened, but ensure we have strong systems in place that will sustain positive relationships moving forward,” Durand added.

True reconciliation requires the commitment and capacity to engage in respectful, truthful, and culturally appropriate conflict resolution efforts, Alphonse added.

“I believe this is what both parties engaged in today. My hope is that these improved relations will keep our Elders, women, and children safe.”

Some of the relationship building processes will see the two sides engage in discussions to renew their Letter of Expectation agreement, community specific Indigenous awareness sessions and a tripartite agreement between Tl’etinqox Government, RCMP and the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

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