By Laura E. Young
SUDBURY—It might be too early to say how cultural training plays out in the real world late on a weekend night in the downtown core.
But the Greater Sudbury Police Service (GSPS) hope the first of three rounds of cultural training is the beginning of a new dynamic and greater understanding of the situation facing the Indigenous population in the Sudbury region.
“I’m not sure if it’s prudent to say we can set a timeline for operationalizing it, but I can tell you that we leave there that day not taking on or accepting responsibility for the past, but more so learning from the past and working together,” stated Marc Brunette, a Staff Sergeant for GSPS.
Brunette was one of 27 Greater Sudbury Police Service members to undertake cultural awareness training March 1-3 with George Couchie, a member of the Nipissing First Nation who operates Red Tail Hawk Training and Consulting.
Couchie spent 33 years in policing in Ontario and has delivered cultural awareness training to over 6,000 police officers.
“We’re now armed with some understanding,” said Brunette. “We can now perhaps better relate or be more opening and understanding to the suffering our Indigenous populations may have encountered over the years, and [which] may have resulted in increased substance abuse problems, conflicts with the law.”
It’s expected that two more groups will be trained, with the goal of ensuring that all 50 to 60 supervisors receive the cultural awareness training.
The program was offered as part of the GSPS’s Aboriginal Women Violence Prevention project, Looking Ahead to Build the Spirit of our Women – Learning to Live Free From Violence, which is coordinated by Lisa Osawamick, Aboriginal Women Violence Prevention Coordinator.
The seminar was directed to supervisors because they want the lessons to trickle down to staff, says Constable Shannon Agowissa, the GSPS Aboriginal Liaison Officer.
Supervisors will need to provide answers and understanding when frontline staff needs guidance, Agowissa added.
Over the two days, Couchie’s seminar featured a range of cultural lessons to heavy topics including human trafficking, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, drug problems, and the lack of resources in the Far North.
“I always say who we are now is not who we were,” stated Couchie. “We have a lot of broken communities and we have lots of challenges.”
Couchie reviewed the history of the residential schools, reflecting on their lingering effects in the communities.
“[Then] people don’t say, ‘Oh you need to get over it’,” Couchie said. “You need to help us through that journey and for you to understand that journey also.”
Couchie shared that he prefers to take a non-confrontational approach to deal with heavy topics that can make people feel defensive.
“I say history is history and residential school isn’t about being Christian,” stated Couchie. “People do bad things through religion so it’s not about religion; it’s about criminals who did these things. History is history. Now we need to move on.”
He hopes the training provides lessons that also go home with the officers.
“Hugging their kids and teaching their kids. Or when they hear jokes in the office. We had a positive response from officers. We’ve had officers on other courses say, ‘I wish I’d known this 25 years ago because I’ve done some stupid things in my career.’”
“There was a lot I didn’t know,” Brunette said. “[George Couchie] is very tactful and charismatic, not only sharing culturally sensitive topics to police officers, but sharing to the police culture which is sometimes a difficult culture for people from the outside to come in and instruct.”
Brunette believes GSPS has a solid working relationship with its various community partners, but acknowledges that there is always room for improvement.
“We’re always in a position where we can better ourselves and be more effective in delivering our police services specific to the Aboriginal populations,” stated Brunette.
In addition to two days of police training, Couchie hosted an afternoon discussion circle on Friday, March 3, at Sudbury’s N’Swakamok Friendship Centre. Topics included Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Indigenous teachings and cultural awareness, and community relationship building.