The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council has renewed an agreement with Port Alberni RCMP that will see police work with First Nations mental health workers to aid Indigenous people in crisis.
The first agreement was signed in January 2019 between the NTC and RCMP with the intent of decreasing the number of Indigenous people incarcerated in Port Alberni.
“Building relationships with the RCMP has become really important,” said Judith Sayers, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council. Sayers signed the agreement along with RCMP Insp. Eric Rochette in a brief ceremony outside the front entrance of the RCMP detachment on Morton Street.
“We’ve taken a lot of steps. We have an awesome team at Quu’asa and Teechuktl. This was their initiative; they wanted to do this to help our people…to work with police and hopefully find better solutions,” she said.
Sayers called the renewal of the agreement between the two parties “a path forward.”
Drummers from Quu’asa performed the Nuu-chah-nulth song with permission from its owners, the Ahousaht First Nation. It is a song of preparation, Howard Norris explained. John Gomez, co-ordinator for Quu’asa, called it a good song for the day’s proceedings.
The new agreement reaffirms the relationship between the RCMP and Nuu-chah-nulth organizations. The Port Alberni RCMP by signing this updated document “recognize they are not experts on cultural counselling and First Nation client care.” The document helps continue a protocol between both participants that allows the RCMP to refer First Nations clients directly to the NTC’s Teechuktl (Mental Health) program. Teechuktl members in turn provide mental health as well as cultural and traditional support through the Quu’asa program for Nuu-chah-nulth members.
“Our relationship has been really strong” with the RCMP, said Gomez.
The RCMP’s role is one of facilitation, said Cpl. Jay Donohue, a key member of the local RCMP’s Indigenous Policing section.
“This program will allow for Quu’asa/ Teechuktl Mental Health to engage those that we’re engaging, to engage those who are coming into our cells, to engage those that have mental health issues, that have social issues, that tend to have a direct impact on the police,” Donohue said.
“This is not a fix-all by any stretch,” he acknowledged. “This is a step in the right direction. This allows the ideal situation for the Nuu-chah-nulth to police their own, to help their own. We will never be able to arrest our way out of this situation, and this is the next best thing.”
He said before this agreement was put into place the RCMP were merely putting a Band-Aid on a growing problem that is rooted in inter-generational trauma among Indigenous people.
This is a micro-agreement that deals specifically with Nuu-chah-nulth issues, Nuu-chah-nulth culture, Nuu-chah-nulth people.”