RCMP Cpl. De-Anne Sack is a policing analyst for H Division in Nova Scotia, a member of Sipekne'katik First Nation and a Sundancer. She was the driving force behind erecting a sweat lodge at the RCMP's headquarters in Halifax last fall, which provides employees “a place for thought and contemplation.” She tells Blue Line she’s proud of the RCMP for supporting the initiative.
Q: Why did you decide to choose a career in law enforcement?
I grew up in Sipekne’katik, which is a few kilometres from a former residential school, and I bear witness to the issues that result from the tragedies my people endured while attending the residential school. I chose a career in law enforcement because I wanted to make a difference in our communities by changing the narrative of the stereotypical police officer.
Q: How long have you been with the force and what kind of roles have you had over the years?
I’m into my 23rd year of policing and have worked in a variety of different roles: operational, crime prevention, supervisor-team leader, detachment commander and Aboriginal analyst in HQ.
Q: You began facilitating sweat lodge ceremonies at an RCMP training facility five years ago. Why?
As frontline police officers there are many heart-wrenching events in our careers that we cannot un-see. They have a lasting effect on us. I turned to ceremony to start my healing journey and ceremony has saved my life.
I am a Sundancer with the White Eagle Sundance and this is where I obtained my traditional teachings. When I started my role as the Aboriginal Policing Analyst with Nova Scotia RCMP, one of my responsibilities was the Indigenous Perception Training. Introducing our employees to the scared sweat lodge was an important component for the candidates. We wanted to create awareness, understanding and, most importantly, respect. As a result of having a sweat lodge during the Indigenous Perceptions Training, employees became very interested and wanted to experience more sweat lodge ceremonies.
Q: How long did it take to see this first RCMP sweat lodge constructed? Can you tell us more about the materials used?
The construction of the lodge took three days with a lot of help from like-minded members and several other Sundancers. The materials used are birch trees, wool blankets, a tarp and lots of rope and string to secure the blankets to the frame of the lodge.
Q: Did you experience any challenges in seeing this project become a reality?
To be honest, there are a few challenges with the sweat lodge, such as the lodge being too close to the building. Depending on the weather conditions, smoke permeates throughout the building causing concerns for some employees.
Other agencies, such as churches, community colleges and prisons have sweat lodges at their workplaces. Our sweat lodge is comparable to this and has been our traditional way of prayer.
Q: What is your most memorable moment from the experience thus far?
I would have to say the most memorable moment from the sweat lodge was during the first ceremony when a dispatcher gifted the lodge her father’s tobacco. She requested prayers because his health was deteriorating.
Another time was when RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki came to visit the lodge. What is most memorable is when an employee enters the lodge for the first time with uncertainty and leaves the lodge with a full heart, feeling refreshed and enlightened. That’s the magic of ceremony.
Q: What are some examples of feedback you’ve received from those members who take part in the ceremonies?
So far there has been great feedback from the people who attend the Sweat Lodge.
Q: How many take part on any given last Thursday of the month?
Approximately 6-10 people attend the lodge.
Q: This is part of reconciliation, you have said. How it is working to repair relationships?
I mentioned the sweat lodge saved my life and that it is a way of life for me and for many others. The sweat lodge represents a mother’s womb and it is the safest place to be. The sweat lodge at HQ provides teachings, even when it is not in use. Each time a person walks by the sweat lodge and asks about it, it gives me an opportunity to educate them on the lodge and ceremony. This creates an understanding for RCMP employees who might encounter a lodge in their future postings. It ensures that they will know and respect the ceremonial etiquette for the sweat lodge, having been already exposed to it. We are very fortunate to have this in Nova Scotia and I am proud of this division’s commitment towards reconciliation.
Q: What are your hopes for the sweat lodge down the road?
It is my hope that the lodge will continue to be in use.
Q: What is your advice to other law enforcement members looking to build stronger bridges with Indigenous communities by constructing a sweat lodge?
Location, location, location! It’s very important to ensure the sweat lodge and its use does not interfere with anything. I would also caution those interested in developing a sweat lodge to be very selective in identifying the Sweat Lodge Conductor and to ensure they have solid ceremonial teachings. They must have significant experience in this area.