OHSWEKEN — Six Nations Police was one of the first First Nations communities to enter into an agreement with federal and provincial governments to establish it’s own Police Services.
Discussions began as early as 1989 with an official agreement coming into force by 1992. That agreement provided Six Nations with the funding from provincial and federal governments to have a Six Nations Police force that would be internal to the community.
The most recent agreement sets out an investment of $5.6 million per year for the Six Nations Police between 2018-2023 — boiling down to just 203 dollars per capita in comparison to the Canadian national average of 423 dollars per capita.
Still, in a police force that has been chronically underfunded for the entirety of it’s existence — Six Nations Police can claim a victory of serving and protecting the membership and the territory.
Six Nations Police Commissioner Steve Williams has served for 18 of the 30 years with Six Nations Police. He says that the greatest challenge facing Six Nations Police is the chronic underfunding.
“We need a bigger budget. The province is willing but the feds aren’t there. We’ve been asking for the last two agreements for funding for our drug unit but they just haven’t done it,” said Williams.
Williams says the Six Nations of the Grand River Elected Council provided funding for the community’s drug enforcement team and that the expense for those officers is still not included in the Six Nations Policing Agreement.
That agreement allocates for just 25 officers — a number that Williams says is shamefully under the national average.
Currently Six Nations sits at about 90 officers per 100,000 — nearly half the national rate of 182 per 100,000.
This is not unique to Six Nations. Police Chief Darrin Montour spoke to Two Row Times and said that chronic understaffing to the 9 stand-alone indigenous police services in Ontario is perpetuated by slow-drip funding solutions offered by the province that are quickly gobbled up by OPP and RCMP needs, leaving actual indigenous officers in indigenous communities battling over what is left.
Montour said that many of the federal announcements allocating hundreds of officers to indigenous communities translated into minimal new officers for indigenous police services with the bulk of those positions going to strengthen RCMP and OPP services.
Another disparity that Montour says is an urgent need is the recognition of First Nations constables being declared essential workers.
“Since the inception of the First Nations policing program nothing has really changed as far as First Nations officers being declared essential. That is ongoing dialogue we are having right now with both the federal and provincial governments,” said Montour.
“We do the same training, deal with the same types of incidents and have the same types of stressors just like the municipal, federal and provincial officers have. We’re no different that way in how the job affects our people as well as the community. Our officers should have the same opportunities and funding avenues for technology, equipment infrastructure, officers and training.”
Still, despite chronic underfunding and a constant struggle for resources for all 9 of Ontario’s First Nations police services — indigenous communities policing their own territories has a swath of victories to acclaim.
The implementation of police services for and by Six Nations band membership for example, has put the community at an advantage over and above some of the remaining First Nations in Ontario that struggle with systemic racism in the OPP and RCMP forces that serve their community.
Likewise, Six Nations Police have had to take a strategic approach to enforcement when it comes to drugs on the territory — something Montour says is the top issue facing the community today.
Unlike urban centres in the US where the overfunding of police services in comparison to health and social services has created a business of criminalization — Six Nations Police have needed to network with community agencies like Six Nations Health Services and other community service providers operating in mental health and drug awareness to plan a community wide response to the problem of drugs on Six Nations.
In a recent study — Atlanta Police Services was reported to represent 13% percent of the city’s budget whereas just 3% was directed to transit, affordable housing and after-school programming. In real funding that means that for every dollar invested into Atlanta’s police department just 16 cents goes toward transit, affordable housing and children’s programming.
In contrast — SNGR reported nearly $15 million in funding for Six Nations Health Services in 2020 — three times that of what is allocated to police.
Montour says this has pushed SNP to work with community service providers to find integrated strategies to reduce criminality.
Montour says what is happening in First Nations policing is the opposite of what is being called for in police services everywhere else in North America. “The basis for all of that is systemic racism in policing, and there is, I agree with that. It’s everywhere. But you don’t hear [defund] with First Nations policing. We come out of the starting gate defunded. So it’s a matter of our officers having the community knowledge of what issues are out there and how do we deal with them. Is it enforcement or do they use their discretion? Or working with other agencies in the community to help rectify certain situations? I’ve always said that enforcement is just one strategy available.”
Montour says it is that kind of care for Six Nations membership that makes the job of policing in your own community so tough, but also so critical.
In the last two years, Six Nations Police has been working with Six Nations Health Services and several other regional service providers on the Six Nations Integrated Drug Strategy team — a table that works together to discuss how to mitigate the presence of drugs and drug addiction on the territory.
“We can’t enforce the problem away,” said Montour. “I look at all the unfortunate incidents where there have been overdoses in our community. Those people have families. They miss them and it’s an unfortunate circumstance how their life ended. We’re trying to make it better for everybody.”