New Indigenous advisory council to tackle policing issues in Edmonton

The Edmonton police are forming a new Indigenous advisory council to recommend changes to policing, specifically in relation to Indigenous people. 

The Nîsohkamâkewin Council will advise police on adopting recommendations from several national reports, including the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Andrea Levey, the Indigenous equity advisor with the police, said the 16-member council will develop strategies to address inequities and barriers toward Indigenous people.   

Levey said the homework has been done.

“As Indigenous people, we’ve told the government countless times what we need,” Levey said. 

We’ve been researched to death– Andrea Levey, Indigenous equity advisor

Levey, born and raised in B.C. and a member of the Wauzhushk Onigum First Nation in Kenora, Ont., where her family is from, said she’s been working on these issues for several years.

“We’ve been researched to death,” she said. “We need to take a stand and actually do something with that information.”

Levey and council co-chair Christie Pace will select six new members after the application deadline of Jan. 31 next year.

The new council replaces the former Indigenous Community Liaison Committee, which was left in limbo when Chief Dale McFee discontinued the chief’s advisory council in pursuit of a different approach to community policing, Levey said. 

A review of the ICLC in 2017 found it wasn’t meeting its goals, Levey noted. 

“It wasn’t reaching the community members that they needed to work with,” she said, noting that it wasn’t engaging individuals in the way they had intended.

Ten members from that committee agreed to participate in the new council, including Cliff Whitford from Boyle Street Education Centre, Christie Pace with the Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society and LauraAnn Wahsatnow with Native Counselling Services of Alberta.

“We saw a need to implement these systemic changes,” Levey said. “And we saw a new council that could be created out of that to ensure that they’re implemented properly.” 

Levey said to round out the new council she’s looking for applicants with Indigenous heritage and unique perspectives on policing and social justice.

Cree name

Nîsohkamâkewin is Cree for ‘the act of helping,’ the police release says. 

Levey noted that a member of the previous committee, Cliff Whitford, chose the word as the Edmonton area is historically Cree territory. 

Rob Houle, who was on the City’s Indigenous Ward Naming Committee, suggested that police didn’t engage or consult leaders, elders and residents on reservations before choosing the name.

“Indigenous names carry a weight and a meaning and a connection to the community,” Houle said. 

He said randomly choosing a word is missing the point of Indigenous naming.

“It’s borderline going into the range of tokenism, which is detrimental to all things and is counterpoint to actually moving things forward in a positive fashion.”

Houle also suggested the rebranded council isn’t really different from the previous ICLC, created ten years ago after an outcry about policing and violence in First Nations and Métis communities. 

That committee was also tasked with examining the TRC, analyzing the MMIW report and how police are doing their work.

Houle said the new council is another case of police policing themselves, falling into the same practice of doing things they’ve always done. 

“This is just another knee-jerk reaction,” Houle argued. “The easiest, most lazy way in which to achieve change is to give something a new fresh coast of paint but if the car and the structure isn’t working, something else needs to be done.” 

Houle is also on the city’s new community, safety and well-being task force, mandated with bringing recommendations back to the city at the end of March on how to improve policing in Edmonton.

Levey said she hopes to have the Nîsohkamâkewin council chosen by mid-February and start work in March 2021.


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