Southern Chiefs' Organization launches survey to gauge racism in policing in Manitoba

·3 min read

A survey on experiences of racism in policing by the Southern Chiefs' Organization (SCO) was launched to mark Indigenous Justice Awareness Day.

The survey is open to all Manitoba First Nations and will report on experiences of racism when dealing with police services across the province.

“I’m proud to be launching this important and much-needed survey to better understand racism experienced by First Nation citizens in their encounters with police services in Manitoba,” said SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels in a press release.

“One of the great injustices is that the systems that are supposed to protect us can be themselves perpetrators of violence.”

Indigenous Justice Awareness Day came from the fatal shooting when John Joseph (J.J.) Harper, a 37-year-old member of the Wasagamack Indian Band in the Island Lake area, was killed by the Winnipeg police in March 1988.

Since 2017, an Indigenous person in Canada is 10 times more likely to be shot and killed by a police officer than a non-racialized Canadian, according to a recent analysis.

In the spring of 2020, three Indigenous people in Winnipeg were reported to have been fatally shot by Winnipeg police officers over the span of 10 days.

On Feb. 14, William Ahmo from Sagkeeng First Nation died due to an incident with correctional officers at Headingley Correctional Institute.

Through the survey, the SCO plans to examine the larger, systemic issue that has resulted in many of these unfortunate deaths.

“We know that good data and reporting can lead to understanding and real change, which are both greatly needed,” said Daniels.

“We have faced systemic racism for centuries now. It’s time for it to end. Indigenous lives matter, and we cannot take one more phone call or one more announcement of our people suffering or dying at the hands of the justice system.”

All First Nations in Manitoba can access this survey at www,scoinc.mb.ca. The survey will only be open for six weeks starting Feb. 26.

Winnipeg Police Service Chief Danny Smyth acknowledged the police in Winnipeg have not always been on the right path and that their past actions and procedures have contributed to harming Indigenous people in the community.

“Earlier in my tenure as chief, I formally apologized to the Indigenous community while testifying at the national MMIWG Inquiry. Accountability is necessary if there is to be reconciliation,” said Smyth on Friday.

“There are many other community organizations and leaders who work tirelessly to provide services in our community. This is the kind of community engagement I see as important. Partnering with and supporting groups like this is the true essence of crime prevention through social development.”

Smyth ensures that the police service will reflect the needs and expectations of the community through continued recruitment making sure the Winnipeg police reflect the diversity of the community, along with continued partnership and support of Indigenous service providers.

Continued training and education will also take place to ensure Winnipeg police understand the generational trauma inflicted on people who have experienced colonization.

“We are not perfect, and we will make mistakes, but we are on the right path to combat racism,” he added.

Nicole Wong is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Nicole Wong, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun