‘Our people are dying’: MKO Grand Chief calls for police reform

By | June 10, 2020

WINNIPEG — A Manitoba Indigenous leader is adding his voice to the calls for sweeping reforms to policing.

Momentum has been growing across Canada for communities to defund or abolish their police services in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis.

While some have been calling for funding to be redirected to community organizations, the Grand Chief of Manitoba’s northern First Nations thinks police policies need to change.

“You can tell there’s a breakdown in the system and the larger picture needs to be changed because our people are dying,” said Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Garrison Settee.

Settee pointed to the deaths of three Indigenous people, including 16-year-old Eishia Hudson, who’ve been shot and killed this year in encounters with Winnipeg police. Manitoba’s police oversight agency, the Independent Investigation Unit, is investigating the circumstances surrounding Hudson’s death and the shooting deaths of Jason Collins, 36, and Stewart Andrews, 22.

Settee said their deaths highlight the need for change.

Amid calls to abolish or defund police services, Settee thinks fundamental changes need to come from within policing by redirecting spending. He’d like to see an overhaul of recruitment and screening processes, more Indigenous officers hired, and more culturally-responsive policing.

“They have to be resourced in a way that is conducive to a peaceful relationship with not only Indigenous people but the rest of our society,” he said.

Winnipeg city councillor and police board member Markus Chambers has been listening closely to the calls for change.

Chambers said staff in not only the police service but civic and provincial governments should reflect the communities they serve.

“So hiring more people of diverse backgrounds, of ethnic backgrounds,” said Chambers. “Not only hiring but looking at positions of leadership so that they can share their cultural experiences at the leadership level.”

Chambers said it’s time to look at the police budget and how it serves the community but thinks it’s too soon to defund the service.

Meantime, Manitoba’s Justice Minister was asked if any of the $200 million the province spends on policing each year could be redirected to community organizations. Cliff Cullen said he’s open to discussions with municipalities but right now he’s listening to Manitobans.

“What I’ve been hearing in my time as the Minister of Justice and Attorney General from Manitobans, they want to make sure that public safety is paramount and when they pick up the phone and they call for help, that police officers are available,” said Cullen.

To better protect Indigenous people, Settee said immediate changes are needed.

“Police brutality’s not acceptable anywhere and as Indigenous people we have been living in that reality,” he said.

Settee hopes things improve in part through better collaboration between police and the communities they serve. 

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