The Nation contacted one of the newest Band Councils to see how they are handling the policing crisis. ChieF William Mianscum and the new Mistissini Band Councillors would be meeting the First test oF their administration.
This new Band Council is not afraid to meet new challenges head on. Chief Mianscum said he had found it an interesting experience. This was one experience that no one in the council was prepared to deal with on such short notice. The former Chief, Henry Mianscum, who had been a part of the GCCQ/CRA police negotiation team, was out of the action as he was out on a family trapline.
The new Band Council wasn’t totally without experience as one of the councillors was a former police officer. Crees engaged in negotiations with the government two days after the suspension oF the Cree police Forces on Sept. I. While negotiations are not completed, an agreement was reached allowing temporary funding for Cree police.
But the Liberal cabinet refused to give its final okay to a landmark agreement-in-principle on policing reform reached with the Crees this summer. The cabinet didn’t want to finalize the agreement before the election on Sept. 12. Now the Liberals are out of office and the agreement-in-principle is in limbo.
The Nation: How is Mistissini handling the police walkout on September 1? I know that the Cree police are supported by the Band Councils but how is Mistissini dealing with this situation?
Chief William Mianscum: When we first discussed the Eastmain resolution at the Annual General Assembly held there, there was a member’s resolution passed to suspend policing services in the communities. This was done basically to get Canada and Quebec back to the negotiating table.
We wanted to abstain at that time in Eastmain because we were walking into something that we had not actually studied yet. But apparently this suspension of policing services was talked about previously by all the bands including Mistissini. Based on that information, we agreed to support the resolution. When we got back to the community, we passed a council resolution supporting the Eastmain resolution.
At this time we’ve discussed the options available to us. We consulted our own resource people who had dealt with the
policing agreement previous to this council coming into office.
Did you call on Henry Mianscum to assist you?
No, he was out on his family’s trapline. In any case we have Matthew Petawabano [a former police officer] and Thomas Neeposh who will be involved in those negotiations. And of course Willie MacLeod, the band executive director, who has dealt with this issue previously.
So we relied on them when the council was dealing with this issue. But to be most effective, the resolution had a specific purpose, which was to get Canada and Quebec back to the negotiating table. To do this, we here at the Band Council decided not to put an alternative security system in place. We informed the people of that decision on August 31. This was all on very short notice for us, by the way. We had to move fast on this one. But it was decided and we informed the people of Mistissini of our plans.
Thursday night, the first night, was a free-for-all. Everyone had a field day. There were parties everywhere. It was very risky too. That chance, that risk we took of someone getting seriously hurt or the damage to property, was there.
But to be as effective as possible in terms of getting attention down South, that had to be done. The non-Native personnel who are working in the community are all unionized people and somebody was calling Quebec. Somebody released a news communique. We know it wasn’t a Cree party.
So it was getting the attention we wanted it to get. Friday at noon Canada and Quebec called for a meeting in Montreal. This was the day after suspensions.
How fast did all the parties get to the negotiating table?
We met that weekend and have reached an administrative agreement. The monies required to run the policing services in the communities have been released. The administrative portions of policing requirements. So basically they have agreed to that on Saturday. They’ve agreed to look at the status of the police constables and their jurisdiction will be looked at later. This will be part of an on-going process.
Would you expect full implementation of the agreement-in-principle that deals with reform of policing services?
Yes, once that agreement is in place, for sure. That agreement will give us, in the Cree communities, the option of setting up our own type of policing. This is needed in the communities, if you know what I mean.
We don’t have to be tied down to SQ or RCMP styles of policing. This is what is so good about this agreement. This is what we fought hard to get in place. We did this because, if you remember, the con-stables in the communities were complaining about working conditions and benefits. We are going to be able to deal with those issues now.
Do you see Cree police training at facilities other than SQ training centres, say native police training facilities?
Yes, that was one of the reasons why the Cree communities were pushing for this type of agreement. So that those who need training could train at other centres than the SQ Nicolette Police Academy.
We can send constables to other places that we feel meet the needs of our Cree constables. All this has to be dealt with soon, though. The agreement-in-principle [reached this summer between Crees and the government] states that we have to have 42 constables by April 1,1995. There is funding of about $100,000 per constable. That’s $4.2 million for this first year.
Is there anything else you would like to add about what went on in Mistissini?
Well, going back to what was going on here on Friday evening the 2nd of September, we put into place a Peacekeeping system. We saw there was a need for some type of security system in place. There was a lot of concern in the community.
We had calls from SQ headquarters in Montreal. They stated they had a letter of authorization to send the SQ into this community. So we had to be aware of that and we had to make certain that did not happen.
If you remember the incident in Miria on the Gaspe coast when they had the salmon fishing crisis, the government at that time sent in the SQ into that native community. The tactic of the SQ was to terrorize people into submitting them to calm down.
We did not want to see that happen in this community. So we told them to hold off on the SQ units; that we were putting our own system in place. And that is what we did. We set up Peacekeeping units. They are in power for seven days. They have the powers of any other municipal police. They have the power to arrest people.
There are still questions that have to be answered about these powers when they appear in court about the charges they have laid. So we’ll test the legality of what happened at that time.