Creating a safe space for difficult conversations.
That’s what Josie Nepinak, executive director of the Awo Taan Healing Lodge Society in Calgary, was hoping to nurture at a two-day community engagement conference with Calgary police this week.
“The whole purpose is to open a dialogue, to create a shared path of reconciliation on the issues that are specific to [the] Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls national report,” Nepinak said. The 2019 report called on the government and police to address endemic violence.
The dialogue was tense at times as members of the CPS Homicide Unit, Police Chief Mark Neufeld and superintendent Ryan Ayliffe heard from the group.
Patsy English spoke during the conference. Patsy is Joey English’s grandmother — Joey, a member of the Piikani Nation, was found dismembered in Crescent Heights in 2016.
“It’s common sense, our people fear the uniform,” she said.
That is a reality Calgary Police Chief Mark Neufeld acknowledged.
“The presence in the uniform can be triggering and it’s events like this — that are informal, building relationships that break down barriers,” Neufeld said.
According to Statistics Canada, in 2020, the rate of homicide for Indigenous people was seven times higher than for non-Indigenous people.
Thoughts, ideas and suggestions were gathered at the end of the day to start the next steps of making change.
Supt. Ryan Ayliffe said the conference was necessary to make changes.
“We have to focus more on the relationships and that might mean some ways we engage at the beginning of an investigation. We’re going to have to look at changing so that it’s not a barrier to getting to the end of the investigation,” Ayliffe said.
One of those changes is the creation of a missing persons Indigenous investigator position, which was call 9.4 from the national inquiry into MMIWG.
A Calgary police spokesperson said last year council approved a four-year $9.6 million budget for 60 new police service hires.
Ayliffe said the service is still working on the details of the role and will include the Indigenous community.
Nepinak said she’s encouraged by the new position, but believes there will be learning curves.
“I really do hope that this person is utilised in the way that they need to be because this work needs to happen and not just at a desk somewhere where no one ever sees them,” she said.
“We need them to be active. We need them in our community.”
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