The recently released video showing a northern Alberta Dene chief being beaten at the hands of the RCMP in Fort McMurray last March demonstrates a continued pattern of systemic racism toward Indigenous people in Canada, says Dene Nation Chief Norman Yakeleya.
Yakeleya said he had consulted with member chiefs on Thursday where the incident was discussed.
Allan Adam, the Dene chief shown being tackled to the ground and punched in the video, is listed as an independent member of the Dene Nation as chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation based in Fort Chipewyan.
Earlier in the week, Yakeleya had called for the release of the dashcam video. This had come following a Globe and Mail story that was published on June 5 where Chief Adam complained about police brutality and demanded public release of the video.
The footage was revealed to the public on Thursday evening showing the chief being tackled by a police officer and subsequently punched in the face while on the ground before being taken away.
“The chiefs were very disturbed and concerned that one of our chiefs had experienced the high level of racism at this particular time, especially on a chief,” Yakeleya told reporters.
“We are appalled by what happened to one of our chiefs. That this should not have happened to any one of our chiefs. We are supporting him to have justice and to call for an internal investigation by the RCMP and to look at its members as we have known that there have been many incidents on members across Canada.”
The same morning, the Globe and Mail reported that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also called for an independent, transparent investigation into what happened.
Yakeleya didn’t call for defunding police as has been popularized in demonstrations nationally and internationally – including in Yellowknife this week – but he said the relationship between the RCMP and Indigenous communities needs to be improved.
He added that communities do require strong police services but there need to be a better approach to developing relationships between officers and the people they are serving. This can be done by looking at how officers are recruited, trained for service in the North, taking officers out on the land with community members so that they understand the culture, and addressing discriminatory attitudes toward Indigenous peoples.
“I don’t think anybody should be treated the way Chief Adam had been treated, especially as he identified himself as chief of his people,” he said.
Alcohol as a weapon
Yakeleya also called for further reductions to alcohol sales in the Northwest Territories, saying booze has historically been “used as a weapon” by the territorial government and that it is damaging Dene families and culture.
He also said money raised from liquor taxes that currently goes toward providing addictions treatment in southern Canada, should be redirected and invested in Northern communities.
Profits from any liquor sales should go into on-the-land healing programs that can best support community members, he added.
“I think people are doing the best they can where some are doing everything they can to help,” Yakeleya said when asked how he thought communities were coping with alcohol during the Covid-19. “Others aren’t doing so well.”
Bootleggers and sellers of hard drugs remain an ongoing battle and partnering with higher orders of the territorial and federal government are an important part of tackling the issue, he said.
This is particularly the case as communities prepare for a second wave of the pandemic that could possibly come to the NWT in the fall, he said.
“We need to start getting ready on many fronts,” he said, noting that controlling alcohol consumption is one of those items and a major reason as to why it is being raised now.