Little Pine, Poundmaker First Nations team up to train special constables

Calling them "the eyes and ears" of their communities, the Little Pine and Poundmaker Cree Nations are training 20 special constables to patrol and enforce reserve bylaws.

'We need to look after our own people,' say recruits

'We need to look after our own girls. We need to look after our own people,' said Barbara Tootoosis, left, a member of Poundmaker Cree Nation. She enrolled in the peacekeeper training course along with her sister Michelle. (Jennifer Quesnel/CBC)

Barbara Tootoosis deliberately chose red and white earrings on her first day of peacekeeper training.

She has four Cree granddaughters to protect.

"I'm going to do what I need to do to make sure they don't go murdered or missing," she said. "If our men aren't going to stand up, then our women will."

With an instructor from North West College, Saskatchewan's Little Pine First Nation and Poundmaker Cree Nation, northwest of the Battlefords, are training about 20 band members to act as the eyes and ears for their communities.

Tootoosis and her sister both signed up.

Along with evidence notebooks, the textbooks on the recruits' desks include The Art of Tactical Communications and A Pocket Criminal Code.

Band leaders said it took three years of planning and negotiations with the province before First Nations began offering community safety officer training on reserves this fall. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

Over the six-week course, the participants — who all had to undergo criminal record checks and drug screening before they could apply for the course, Little Pine leaders say — will learn how to use pepper spray, batons and handcuffs for defence before they begin patrolling their reserves.

"For us this is a way of life, to look after each other, to look after our communities, to look after our neighbours," Little Pine Chief Wayne Semaganis told recruits this week at the community's school.

"I expect all of you to try your best," he said.

'It brings all that mischief down'

It marks the first time in Saskatchewan's history that two bands are teaming up to train special constables on their own land.

Semaganis is now in his third term as chief of the Little Pine First Nation.

'We want to show that we are good neighbours too,' said Little Pine's chief, Wayne Semaganis. 'This is a step in the right direction.' (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

He said elders frequently call him with concerns.

"They couldn't even leave possessions outside — things were getting stolen, things were getting vandalized," Semaganis said.

"You had home invasions, you had drug dealers, and trying to get the police to respond in a timely fashion, nothing was really working out."

Semaganis said it can take days for the RCMP to respond to property crimes such as vandalism. 

"There's a lot of young people walking around after hours," said Semaganis. "To see that there's somebody out there keeping an eye on things, it brings all that mischief down."

Training for six members of the Poundmaker Cree Nation and 12 members of the Little Pine First Nation began this week. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

In May, the province agreed to allow community safety officers or peacekeepers to train on their home reserves. The first training session began last month in Pelican Narrows.

Students who complete the province's course requirements become special constables who can work anywhere.

Laithan Checkosis said he plans to stay at Little Pine, although his dream is to one day become a police officer.

Little Pine band member Laithan Checkosis said he joined the program because he wants to help take care of his community. 'You can't walk down the road without looking behind your back,' he said. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

"It was a big step for me to get where I am right now," the 25-year-old said. "I want to give back and then take care of my community, not just for myself but for my family and my kids."

Program leaders warned the recruits they may not always make friends.

"There's gonna be confrontation," said Chief Semaganis. "We're all very closely related here so it's gonna lead to that head-bumping which is a very necessary part of the process."

Tootoosis agreed.

"There's such a negative outlook on policing everywhere, everybody's scared," Tootoosis said. 

"The reality is we need security here. We need to look after our own people."

Participants were warned they might not always make friends as special constables. 'We're all very closely related here so it's gonna lead to that head-bumping, which is a very necessary part of the process,' says Chief Semaganis. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)