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Rights + Justice

Why Do Police Keep Shooting Nuu-chah-nulth People?

Conversations about police accountability must continue, because this injustice to our people can’t go on.

Judith Sayers 13 May

Judith Sayers (Kekinusuqs) is from the Hupacasath First Nation in Port Alberni, B.C. She is president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council.

The unthinkable happened again on Sunday, when another Tla-o-qui-aht/Nuu-chah-nulth person was shot by police on Hitacu, one of Ucluelet Nation’s reserves near Ucluelet, B.C. Thankfully, it was not a fatality. This is the third shooting by police of Tla-oqui-aht members in 11 months.

Chantel Moore was shot and killed by a city police officer during a wellness check on June 4 in Edmundston, New Brunswick. The Quebec Bureau of Independent Investigation was called in to review her killing. Its report has not been made available to the family, nor have charges been laid against the officer, so the family still doesn’t know the facts of what occurred. Justice is taking too long for Chantel.

Joseph (a.k.a. Julian) Jones was shot and killed on Feb. 27 by RCMP when they went to check on a report of a domestic situation on Opitsaht, one of Tla-o-qui-aht’s reserves. An investigation is ongoing by the province’s Independent Investigations Office, and a civilian monitor that is a Tla-o-qui-aht member, has been put on the case.

The most recent shooting of a Tla-o-qui-aht woman is also being reviewed by the province. The RCMP had been called to a domestic dispute, and it resulted in the shooting. The Independent Investigations Office has shared few facts, but has again offered a civilian monitor. This woman is in hospital and being treated for the shots she suffered.

Three shootings by police for one small community of 1,150, or even the larger Nuu-chah-nulth Nation of 10,000, is hard to comprehend. Are Tla-o-qui-aht members a target of police? Granted, one shooting occurred on the East Coast, but here on the West Coast, two shootings in two months is far too many.

We ask the same questions as we did in the other two shootings.

What efforts were made to de-escalate the situation? What other options were available to the officer to quell this tiny, five-foot woman?

Why was it necessary for multiple shots? Are officers getting enough training in de-escalation and use-of-force situations?

Are officers getting sufficient training for trauma-informed situations? Why aren’t there trauma-informed teams available to deal with certain kinds of situations?

Is there sufficient training on the use of cultural protocols, and understanding and respecting First Nations people?

Are officers taught to value all people regardless of race? What efforts are being made to stem the racism that is present in the RCMP?

These are questions we’ve raised with federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, RCMP commissioner Brenda Lucki and deputy commissioner Jennifer Strachan since June, and now with B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth.

Why are policing killing or injuring our members? What have you done about it? We are calling on these officials to be accountable for these shootings.

In the past year, what movements have been made on wellness checks and de-escalating situations and setting up trauma-informed teams?

I haven’t seen any changes, and this is so unacceptable as more of our members get shot and our communities are left in anger, fear and devastation, and any trust they may have had with police is destroyed.

Where do we go from here? How do we pick up the pieces and move forward to ensure our members are protected in their own communities?

I feel like I have more questions than answers, but I do know that we have to take steps to stop the shootings, and we have to work with government and the police to fix these kinds of shootings in the immediate, mid and long term.

We also need the help of the public to tell the RCMP and governments that these shootings are not acceptable.

We require that our people receive the same humane treatment that the rest of society receives, and that the violence and harm stop. We know de-escalation can occur without someone being shot, as we see it happen elsewhere.

One of the solutions could be our own “police force,” formulated on our ideas of security in our communities. We do not need to copy the colonial model of policing as it doesn’t work in some situations. Traditionally in our communities, we had people who made sure justice was enforced and the people taken care of.

The federal government is amending its Police Act to include Indigenous police forces as an essential service, and funding has been set aside to work on these. But this is a longer-term solution, and we need to act now to stop further shootings.

We need an emergency response. We need to review the training officers receive and work with RCMP to make changes to its intervention model. We need to be assured things will be done differently.

Changes can be made to protect the safety of everyone concerned. We are not asking anyone to be put in harm’s way.

Nuu-chah-nulth Nations are working collectively and individually with the RCMP on how to deal with certain situations. We are working on protocols for how the RCMP can enter reserves, and how the First Nation can help in various situations.

The tribal council and RCMP are working together on a relationship based on respect with the goal of providing prevention, solutions and assistance with any community crisis. Above all, we are working together to ensure that we prevent the shooting of Nuu-chah-nulth people both on and off our communities.

We need to find solutions — on the ground, in our communities with those we work with — as we don’t seem to be getting much help from federal authorities. But we won’t give up that avenue for solutions, as we need to involve them.

Nuu-chah-nulth demand justice for our people, and we will not stop until we achieve it.

We will work with the BC First Nations Justice Council and use the strategy it has put together. We will work with leadership organizations in the province, the Assembly of First Nations and other First Nations.

We need all the political support we can get to eradicate systemic racism, to have our people treated equally and, most of all, to ensure that our people are valued as an important part of this country, where we are the original peoples of this land.

We should not have to fight this hard for justice.

We ask all of you to fight with us.

Let’s have the important conversation of the role of police and identify other methods to do some of the work of police.

Shooting Nuu-chah-nulth people is not an option we can live with.  [Tyee]

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