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Good morning. Wendy Cox in Vancouver today.

Across Canada, there are fewer than 40 police forces run by Indigenous communities serving their own members. Only one of them is in Saskatchewan, where the mass stabbings last fall in the James Smith Cree Nation sparked renewed conversations about the need for Indigenous communities to take on their own policing.

National policing reporter Colin Freeze went to Saskatchewan to explore why the First Nations policing model is so uncommon and the frustrations of those communities that still rely on the RCMP.

It took 40 minutes for the RCMP in Melfort, Sask., to respond to a call that a man was killing people on the small reserve in Northern Saskatchewan. By the time officers got there, nine people were dead and 18 were injured. Two others would later die.

Colin notes that in Saskatchewan, where 17 per cent of the population is Indigenous, policing is a serious concern. On northern reserves such as James Smith, violent crime is escalating at a time when crime rates elsewhere are falling. Police ranks, though, are plateaued.

In 1991, Public Safety Canada came up with the funding model, now known as the First Nations and Inuit Policing Program (FNIPP), which has gone on to provide several billions in federal and provincial government funding toward policing of reserves.

It’s a cost-sharing formula: the federal government pays 52 per cent of the expenses, the province of jurisdiction picks up the other 48 per cent. Participating Indigenous groups enter into the arrangement and then pick their model, which in general terms comes down to two options. The first, and most common, allows the First Nation to apply the money toward more RCMP officers on its lands.

Under the second option, the First Nation uses the money to create its own force.

The third option is no FNIPP participation at all. That was where James Smith fell. Although the First Nation asked Ottawa to include it in the program in 2005, nothing came of it. Public Safety couldn’t tell Colin why.

Colin found that of the 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan included in the FNIPP program, 45 of them opted for Option 1, expecting RCMP officers to spend time on reserve and get to know the people who live there. But senior Saskatchewan RCMP officials acknowledge the funds have almost entirely gone away from the promised community outreach and instead, toward standard policing with no focus on reserves.

Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore, the top RCMP official in Saskatchewan, said years ago Saskatchewan pared back scores of standard RCMP policing positions. And so, as Colin writes, the RCMP started filling staffing gaps with positions financed under the FNIPP, which are cheaper for the province to maintain because they are 52-per-cent funded by the federal government. Those officers began spending more time off-reserve. “Unfortunately someone recognized there could be cost savings there,” Assistant Commissioner Blackmore said.

But on the lone Saskatchewan force that signed up for Option 2, the five First Nations that are policed by their own File Hills First Nations Police Service have a force that is growing and is about to break ground on a $6.7-million headquarters in its territory.

The five reserves found they had more clout and scale together than they did individually. They formed a collective board to apply for FNIPP grants, and it became one of the few entities in Western Canada that negotiated full access to funding.

There have been growing pains: the RCMP has unmatched specialization, so the File Hills force still relies on the Mounties for the loan of major-crimes detectives, canine teams and jail cells. Finding trained Indigenous officers is difficult. Six retired Mounties are in their ranks.

But the force is a model James Smith Cree Nation and others are leaning toward for the future.

This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief Mark Iype. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here.

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