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Cultural connection and community safety with the Manitoba First Nations Police

June 24, 2024  By Chris Adams


Entrance into the Swan Lake Pow Wow. Photo: Chris Adams

It’s Summer 2023 and another beautiful summer night has arrived in the Pembina Valley, which is about a two-hour drive southwest of Winnipeg. A grand entrance of participants from First Nation communities across Canada and the United States marks the official beginning of the 25th annual Swan Lake Pow Wow. This is one of many Pow Wows each summer in Manitoba to celebrate Indigenous culture.

For the members of the Manitoba First Nations Police Service (MFNPS), the Swan Lake Pow Wow is not just an event they patrol to ensure safety, it’s an opportunity to take part in the grand entry as valued members of the community. It says a lot about the special link between First Nations police and the culture that is celebrated at these events.

What makes the MFNPS unique is a community-focused approach to public safety, which is trauma-informed. As outlined in the 2023 to 2026 MFNPS Strategic Plan, trauma-informed policing is a concept that originated in the health sector. It is grounded in a deep appreciation and empathy for community, cultural, historical, and gender issues.

Swan Lake Pow Wow. Photo: Chris Adams

Key aspects of trauma-informed policing are to make sure people feel physically and psychologically safe, the community members’ voices and choices are empowered, collaboration exists between the police and the community, there is police trustworthiness and transparency, and peer support and mutual self-help within the community and the service.

This approach has been implemented by the MFNPS in both formal and informal practices. Detachment members work directly with their respective chiefs, band councils and support agencies to provide initiatives that include focused law enforcement, support for youth, and victim support. MFNPS members regularly give back to their communities by getting personally involved in local events and activities.

The cultural connection to First Nation communities is not just a priority for the MFNPS but a source of inspiration. The MFNPS holds the seven sacred teachings as core values that guide the service’s 56 sworn and 20 civilian members in their day-to-day work. Those teachings are humility, respect, love, honesty, wisdom, courage, and truth.

Photo: Chris Adams

“We are a police service that was created by First Nations for First Nations,” says MFNPS Chief Doug Palson. “Each First Nation we serve and protect is unique in culture, which is why we emphasize officer participation in their assigned communities.”

“It’s important for First Nations communities to be served by First Nations policing. You do not get the same level of engagement from any other police service. Any community that can have a First Nations police service will be better off regardless,” said Commission Chair Sherri Thomas.

Chief Palson leads a police service that serves Dakota, Ojibway, and Cree communities from Opaskwayak Cree Nation in the north to seven other First Nations in southern Manitoba. The MFNPS is the oldest First Nation police service, dating back to 1974 when it was known as the Dakota Ojibway Police Service.

Today, the MFNPS has civilian governance from the Dakota Ojibway Tribal Council Police Commission, representing the eight First Nations communities. Commission Chair Sherri Thomas of the Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation understands the unique quality of policing provided by the MFNPS.

“The philosophy that being integrated into the community as much as possible, being a part of the community as opposed to just policing the community, is extremely important. It is important at the community, service, and governance levels that there’s a connection to the community,” says Thomas.

Operating under a tri-partied funding agreement between the federal, provincial and Dakota Ojibway Tribal Council Police Commission, the MFNPS faces many of the funding challenges facing other First Nation police services. The MFNPS is held to the same standards and expectations as any police organization in Manitoba. The difference between the MFNPS and the other law enforcement agencies is that the service’s staffing model has stayed relatively static over the past 50 years despite the increase in demand for policing.

Chief Palson wants to build a police service which has the proper capacity to provide adequate public safety solutions through sustainable and stable funding. “First Nations have the right to self-determination. This includes having the resources to address the social issues that face our communities. We believe that a First Nation police service needs adequate internal capacity. We need stable funding to ensure long-term success.”

Photo: Chris Adams

Thomas and her fellow police commissioners believe in the value that First Nation policing provides. “There’s always challenges, but a First Nations police service is going to be able to not only integrate and connect to the community, to the people, to the resources that are there, but they’re going to be more successful in providing that level of peace and protection and safety that our communities and First Nation people not only want but deserve.”

As the MFNPS looks ahead to 2024 and beyond, its community-focused approach will continue. Several First Nation communities have made it clear that they wish to have the MFNPS as their provider of public safety. As new communities come on board, this will translate into growth and opportunities for the MFNPS.


Chris Adams is a consultant who specializes in supporting communication and technology initiatives in the public safety sector. Adams is currently providing specialized services to the Manitoba First Nations Police Service. He can be contacted by email at chris.adams@mfnp.ca.


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