Sharing Tradition

By Kevin Masterman, Toronto Police Service Published: 4:13 p.m. June 1, 2016
Updated: 7:13 p.m. June 1, 2016

The beat of the drum connects us all.

A group of girls and women singing, holding hand drums
Red Rhythm, from Eastview Public School, performs Strong Woman song

Elder Andrew Wesley was one of hundreds to be reminded of their connection to their roots and the earth through the Toronto Police Service Aboriginal Consultative Committee celebration as part of National Aboriginal Month at the Wellesley Community Centre June 1.

“For Christians, it is their church bells. For us, it’s the beat of the drum. Because the beat of the drum represents the heartbeat of Mother Earth,” said Wesley, a member of the Omushkego Cree from Moosonee. “We have to reflect on Mother Earth where we get our food, our clothing, our shelter, our water… it’s always good to reflect on who you are.”

Members of the All Nation Drum Council Fire provided the rhythm to the ceremony that saw traditional grass and jingle dances among others for school children from Eastview Public School as well as First Nations and Bala Avenue Community Schools.

Elder Wesley said sharing the traditions with youth as well as police officers is important.

“You have to know where you come from,” he said, of the many students on hand with Aboriginal roots. “It’s good to come together with others. I think it’s important to come together with the police, after all, they work for us, in a way they are caregivers in our community.”

Toronto Police Aboriginal Consultative Committee celebration

Aboriginal Consultative Committee (ACC) member Steve Teekens said it’s important to work with police officers now in a positive way, as at one point in our history, the police were used to enforce unjust laws such as placing children in residential schools.

“In Canada, not too long ago, there used to be some very unjust laws, and some of them were put in place to eradicate native culture. It used to be against the law to practice our ceremonies. It used to be against the law to pull out a drum and do our cultural singing. This is very important in order to ensure that our culture survives into the next generation, it’s very important to share this culture with our young people,” said Teekens, who is executive director of Na-Me-Res, a native men’s residence. “It’s an important event because it demonstrates our partnership with the Toronto Police… It’s also important for the police officers to see the Aboriginal community is working with them in a positive way.”

Men in TPS uniform holding hands with children
Deputy Chief Mike Federico and Staff Superintendent Tom Russell take part in the Round Dance alongside students

Staff Superintendent Tom Russell, who has co-chaired the ACC for the past four years, said the Aboriginal community is a diverse one that has lived through challenges with “respect and peacefulness.”

“The Aboriginal community has been marginalized in many respects over the years and this is an opportunity to celebrate their culture, their spirituality and their history and we should never forget that,” Russell said. “I think all police officers need to have a better understanding of the Aboriginal community and the challenges they faced in our country. It will assist them in policing when they appreciate what they’ve been through and the contributions they’ve made to our country. It’s not something that I was taught in history class at school.”

Constable Randall Arsenault is celebrating his Mi’kmaq background. His father, Paul, served many years  in Toronto’s Emergency Task Force before becoming the Toronto Police Aboriginal Liaison Officer and given the chance to learn more and connect with the Aboriginal community.

“I’m just trying to continue the tradition,” said Arsenault. “I’m talking to officers who’ve never been to this event and love the energy.”

Chief Mark Saunders was among those who celebrated the “warmth” of the community and the elders’ ability to tell a story and captivate a room.

“In order for us to get it right, we have to learn the history, the culture, the nuances of every single culture that comes to our table,” Saunders said. “Each and every time we have the ability of being in the same room and talk with one another it makes us better.”

Toronto Police Services Board member Ken Jeffers said it was great to see police officers and community members standing side by side.
“This symbolizes something very important: that we must move forward together to make positive strides.”

A girl in traditional Aboriginal clothing dances in front of people in TPS uniform
A girl performs a traditional dance as officers look on
Two men sitting at a drum
All Nation Drum Toronto Council Fire perform at the Pow Wow beside flags presented by officers
Drumsticks over a drum
Drummers begin their song
TPS crest watermark