Indigenous Culture Celebrated

By Martin Blake, Toronto Police Service Published: 9:11 a.m. June 21, 2021

Recognizing the enormous contributions of Indigenous people, Toronto Police Chief James Ramer extended best wishes to members of that community during National Indigenous Month in June that honours their history, heritage and traditions.

A woman holding a feather and bowl
Frances Sanderson performs a smudging ceremony

“Sadly, this year we also mourn with the Indigenous community and honour the memory of the 215 children whose bodies were found on a residential school site in Kamloops,” he said, to mark June 21 – the National Indigenous Peoples Day. “Our thoughts are with their families, communities.”

Ramer reiterated that policing has a role in the systemic racism that negatively impacts the Indigenous community.

“Over the past year, along the Police Services Board, we have taken the time to reflect on where we have been and where we need to be by working to implement the 81 recommendations for police reform,” he added. “As a police service, we are doing everything we can to root out inequality, implement reform and build an inclusive culture at TPS.”

Through its Aboriginal Community Consultative Committee (ACCC), Indigenous Liaison officer and Aboriginal Peacekeeping Unit, Ramer noted that the Service will continue to build strong relationships with Indigenous communities.

“We know how much work has to be done and we are committed to listening, learning and taking action,” he added

Supt. Stacy Clarke, the Service’s Community Partnerships & Engagement Unit (CPEU) Unit Commander, said the organization is committed to building meaningful relationships and fostering trust with Indigenous communities.

The Service’s Aboriginal Peacekeeping Unit was formed 29 years ago.

Chief James Ramer, TPSB Chair Jim Hart and CPEU Superintendent Stacy Clarke speak about the importance of National Indigenous History Month

It’s important that we keep this ceremony alive and our culture alive because it wasn’t that long ago that we couldn’t share this and be in a public setting

Clarke said it works proactively to enhance access for community members to policing services.

“Through regular collaboration and exchange of information, our members become better informed on Indigenous customs, traditions, values and history,” she said. “The community learns more about policing in Toronto and has a voice in shaping our processes and procedures when it comes to serving Indigenous people.”

The Service produced videos as part of a virtual celebration of the history of indigenous peoples, including a smudging ceremony by Toronto Police Aboriginal Community Consultative Committee Co-Chair Frances Anderson, in which sacred herbs and medicines are burned.

There were also traditional songs and dance performed by Hoop Dancer Nikoiya Wile and the All Nations Singers as well as Deanne Hupfield and family.

“What’s really important and critical in our culture is practicing our ceremonies,” says All Nations singer and drummer Thunder Jack. “It’s important that we keep this ceremony alive and our culture alive because it wasn’t that long ago that we couldn’t share this and be in a public setting.”

Toronto Police Celebrate National Indigenous History Month | Traditional Smudging Ceremony

Toronto Police Services Board Chair Jim Hart said the time has come for Canadians to examine their treatment of Indigenous people.

“This is especially important given the recent devastating discovery of the mass grave of 215 Indigenous children who were students at a residential school in Kamloops,” he noted. “Our hearts are with the First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities, with the survivors of the residential school system and with the children who are still missing.

“In acknowledging this painful past, we must recognize too that true reconciliation requires us to acknowledge that the trauma is ongoing, that this was a reality for far too many and that discrimination persists, even today, with an impact that’s significant. We can’t and mustn’t ignore and it’s critical that we commit ourselves wholly, sincerely and humbly to this work.”

National Indigenous History Month also presents an opportunity to recognize the strength of the present-day Indigenous communities.

“This is a time for communities to come together to celebrate the significance of the day and month,” said Const. Monica Rutledge, the Service’s Indigenous Liaison officer. “We must learn to understand the history of Indigenous peoples of this land in order for us to move forward so that we can build positive trust and relationships with Indigenous communities.”

Celebrating National Indigenous History Month with All Nations Singers

APCCC Co-Chair Supt. Lauren Pogue says that Indigenous peoples have shaped much of our nation.

“It’s important to acknowledge the significant achievements Indigenous peoples have made and the contributions that have shaped who we are as Canadians,” Pogue says.

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