The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council and Port Alberni RCMP signed an historic agreement on Monday that aims to decrease the number of Indigenous people in the community who are incarcerated.
The agreement will allow RCMP to refer First Nations clients to the NTC’s Quu’asa Program, operating out of Teechuktl Mental Health, which uses traditional cultural and spiritual practices to support and promote mental and emotional healing. The program offers individual and family counselling, community healing gatherings and resource information, including referrals to treatment programs.
Kim Rai, Quu’asa coordinator, called the agreement “the first of its kind” for the Nuu-chah-nulth Nations.
The RCMP have already been working with Quu’asa for more than a year, but Rai said the “formal agreement” will allow the partnership to continue for years to come.
“We’ve been able to create a safe environment here,” Rai explained.
Tseshaht elected chief councillor Cynthia Dick and Hupacasath elected chief councillor Steven Tatoosh attended the signing on Monday and both said they are “excited” for the collaboration.
“We know the rates of Nuu-chah-nulth people in the corrections system in Port Alberni and outlying areas is very high, and there needs to be some sort of change,” said Tatoosh.
Cpl. Jay Donahue of Port Alberni’s Aboriginal Policing Services said that the agreement is “just the beginning” of a partnership between RCMP and local First Nations.
“It’s taken a bit of time to get to this point, but now the real work begins,” he said. “Our goal is to truly reduce the number of calls for service and work towards reducing the number of First Nations imprisoned and put in our jails.”
The referral system allows First Nations clients to receive help immediately, rather than waiting for the court system. Rai said he has heard from clients that it can take up to four months to see a psychiatrist at the mental health and addictions office.
“This way, we can help them out that day, if not the next day,” he said.
Quu’asa also offers home visits for clients, which is “unique” for a counselling program, said Rai.
“We try and take down barriers where they exist,” he explained.
Donahue said there has been a “push” in the last few years by RCMP in Canada to look at alternative ways of solving the problem of repeat offenders.
“We’re not going to arrest our way out of this,” he said. “We can wait until a judge orders probation, but a lot of time that’s months or years down the road.
“You see someone in a cell, and you know there’s an underlying reason why they’re there. A lot of people are coming into our system, being released from the system and then nothing. We can reach out to Quu’asa to try and pinpoint those issues.”
Port Alberni RCMP Officer in Charge Inspector Brian Hunter said police officers see people at their lowest–which is often the best opportunity to have a positive influence. The agreement is a “conduit” that will allow RCMP to refer their clients to get some help.
“Many of the folks that we deal with on the street or in the jail cell, they don’t belong there,” said Hunter. “What they need is some help along the way.”
In response to this article, Island Health has said that the mental health and addictions office on Roger Street has walk-in services available for people who want to access services immediately. The hours are Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Anyone who attends the walk-in will be seen the same day and offered services.