A team of what are being called peace keepers are set to take action against violence and gang activity in northern Saskatchewan.
The first ever graduates of the Peace Keepers Program in Pelican Narrows will graduate Thursday evening.
The 8 community members will begin their work immediately and program organizers hope the graduates will be successful in creating a safer community.
The officers will mostly be patrolling the streets at night to provide additional support for police. They will not be allowed to respond to incidents where their safety could be at risk, however, the hope is the officers will be able to address violent crime before it happens. Officers will also be able to provide a first responder type role when incidents do occur.
The program was based off a similar program in Onion Lake Cree Nation.
Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation Vice-Chief Harold Linklater has been a champion of the program for his home community of Pelican Narrows.
The vice-chief says violence in the northern community is not going down despite an RCMP presence, so he wanted to make a change.
“I really have high hopes in terms of this program working and I believe it will have a lot of benefits in the future moving forward,” said Linklater. “These officers will speak the language, they know the people and they will be able to better handle some situations.”
The introduction of the program comes after concerns over gang activity in the community. Some have pointed to the case of Hilliard Sewap Jr., a 17 year-old killed in the community in 2015, as an example of the present gang activity in Pelican Narrows. 5 men and two youth were charged in relation to Sewap’s death. The 5 men were all convicted of manslaughter while a trial for the two youth is scheduled in April.
“We hope these new officers will deter and curb some of the violence going on within our community,” said Linklater. “When people see a presence monitoring public safety, I am sure it will deter some of the violence that may occur.”
Linklater also says he hopes the peace keeper officers will be a good bridge between the RCMP and the larger community.
“There is a distance between the community and the RCMP to a certain extent,” he said. “I think these officers will be a good step to bridge that gap and build upon the working relationship between the RCMP and the community.”
While the File Hills First Nation Police Service is the only self-administered First Nations police force in Saskatchewan, Linklater believes the peace keeper program could be a good stepping stone toward a police service across Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation.
“This could lead to bigger and better things,” said the PBCN vice-chief. “(A police service) is definitely something we have talked about and perhaps we can get into something like that in the future.”
Funding for the Peace Keepers Program was provided through CanSask job grants and the National Child Benefit Reinvestment program from PBCN.
(PHOTO: Graduates gather in Pelican Narrows. Photo courtesy of Sylvia Harris.)