When RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson acknowledged at a meeting of the Assembly of First Nations last December that there are racists in his force that he would love to be rid of, he was commended by aboriginal leaders for acknowledging the problem so forthrightly.
Now we find out, through a report by the Toronto Star’s Joanna Smith, that the RCMP and national aboriginal groups have followed up on that meeting with a series of encounters aimed at finally building a “solid relationship” after so many years of mutual distrust.
It sounds like all this has the makings of a real breakthrough. So here’s a sobering reminder that we’ve been there before, a long time ago, and not much came of it.
Way back in March 1989, the Star reported that more than 300 police and minority delegates literally joined hands and danced to the pounding beat of an aboriginal drum to celebrate what they thought then was an end to racism in the RCMP.
At that time, then-RCMP commissioner Norman Inkster promised to review 30 solid reform proposals with an eye toward the eventual implementation of all of them. That included destroying pamphlets that described Mounties as rescuing “Indians debauched and demoralized by whiskey.” Said Inkster, “We want things to move.”
Fast forward almost 27 years, and yet another commissioner and set of native leaders are meeting and agreeing that things must change, and quickly.
To his credit, Paulson is certainly trying. Since acknowledging there is racism in his ranks the commissioner has held a one-on-one meeting with the Assembly of First Nations “on the need for concrete action to end racism within the police force.”
And he is building relationships with other aboriginal groups. He has been quietly meeting with a working group of national organizations devoted to empowering indigenous women and preventing violence. And he holds quarterly meetings with native groups to talk about crime prevention and reducing the victimization of indigenous peoples.
But it will take a lot more than goodwill and meetings, as Inkster’s long-ago experience underlines so well, to eliminate racism within the ranks of the national police force.
One thing Paulson should act on immediately, as the Star has argued before, is ensuring there is a curriculum and sensitivity training in place at the RCMP academy that is strong enough to counter ignorance among cadets about First Nations culture.
It’s always good to talk. But the time for action is now.