When in Canada

Canadian police issue a culture guide to help bridge the gap between native communities and local authorities

Lesley Price

As part of their efforts to improve relations with aboriginal communities, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police recently issued a Native Spirituality Guide developed with native elders to aid officers in understanding indigenous culture and the practices of native communities across Canada.

The guide was introduced to ensure officers do not breach local customs employed by communities and to facilitate a clearer understanding as well as improve relations between native communities and governing bodies.

Fostering the relationship
The RCMP has been a long-standing law enforcement partner of aboriginal communities and states that serving such groups is one of the organisation’s “strategic priorities”.

According to various reports in Canadian media, the RCMP and native tribes have come into conflict several times this year, and that has sparked a discussion about issues such as indigenous rights and new resource developments.

The guide details the special ceremonies practised and items typically carried by members of native groups. Ranging from details of traditional songs and dress to more controversial areas including the possession of various pipes and herbs.

The guide pays special attention to the concept of the ‘medicine bundle’, a pouch carried by many native individuals consisting of a range of items considered sacred by the bearer.

According to the guide, in the past, pouches have on the rare occasion been used to conceal illegal items leading to increased searches by officials. However, it states, “in most cases, police and security officials have not been aware of the spiritual significance regarding the Bundle’s contents. … Nor have they been culturally sensitised enough to the Native Elders’ regard of ceremonial accessories which must be treated with the utmost respect.”

Easing tension or creating it?
Rules have thus been clarified in regards to the handling of medicine bundles and how other areas should be dealt with by RCMP in respect to local customs.

The RCMP has expressed their sensitivity to “the fact that many elders do not consent to the technical reproduction of spiritual elements”, and made it clear that the guide had been compiled with the co-operation of elders.

The guide also recomments that local elders should be consulted in regards to local traditional ceremonial practises and significance of individual sacred objects.

Factfile | Native Spirtuality Guide

The RCMP’s Native Spirituality Guide was created in order “to help police officers gain an understanding of sacred ceremonies practised and sacred items carried by many Native people across Canada”.

Ir provides an overview of a number of aspects of native culture, including,

– The Circle of Life
– Traditions, and
– Ceremonial Rituals

It also makes special mention of the treatment of medicine bundles.

The guide is available online on the RCMP’s website

Originally published by The Arctic Journal. Re-published here with the permission of the author.

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