After serving 24 years with the RCMP, Keith Blake was sworn in as the fifth Chief of Police of the Tsuut’ina Nation Police Service in 2013. Throughout his time with the RCMP, he experienced firsthand the culture, pride and honour in being part of the policing in seven different First Nations communities in Alberta.
By Renée Francoeur
Chief Blake’s operational and investigative policing experience includes both frontline uniform policing, as well as plain clothes duties in specialized units. His investigative background includes postings as a General Investigation/Major Crime Investigator, Federal Drug Unit Investigator and Integrated National Security Enforcement Team (INSET) Investigator and Supervisor, Detachment Commander, Emergency Response Team Leadership and Professional Standards. Blake shares with Blue Line how the service has adopted Indigenous ways of being within the agency at a frontline policing level and beyond to works alongside the dedicated men and women of Tosguna, and hopes for the future.
Q: Why did you decide on a career in law enforcement?
My cousin was a police officer in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and throughout my life, he was my role model. While growing up, he often shared stories with me about his career in policing which provided me an understanding of the job, but most importantly, how much of an impact you could have on someone’s life, especially when they are in crisis. Since hearing these stories, it left an impact on my life and it has truly been the only career I have ever wanted to do. I really enjoy being able to celebrate the success of people but also, I appreciate the opportunity to be there to offer my genuine support when someone may need it.
I am confident that this story is similar to many officers across our country, and it is important that we continue to be role models within the profession to empower and support our communities.
The First Nations Policing Program is antiquated and does not provide the environment to support a long-term vision or the ability to secure long term sustainable funding.
Q: How have things changed at the Tsuut’ina Nation Police Service since you became chief?
Since becoming the chief of the Tsuut’ina Nation Police Service, there has been significant changes in the delivery of policing within Tsuut’ina Nation, in addition to the substantial growth of sworn and non-sworn member personnel. In 2013, we had a staffing compliment of 11 sworn officers with little rank structure. Today, we proudly have 27 sworn members and 13 civilian members and a successful rank structure with promotional and specialized unit opportunities.
Previously, policing within the Tsuut’ina Nation Police Service was more reactionary and call response based, due to the lack of officers. With our growth also came the opportunity to be able to invest and prioritize the needs of our community to address the root causes of crime through programing and prevention. Due to our unequal funding model, we have relied upon innovation in seeking additional funding through grants to enhance our service delivery and meet the needs of community through programming, prevention and relationship building. I am extremely proud to inform that we have been successful in grant applications that have increased our policing budget by over $850,000 yearly, which enhances our ability to support our Nation’s youth, elders and at-risk individuals and families.
Q: What is the latest initiative at the Tsuut’ina Nation Police Service?
Our service has made significant advancements in acquiring and utilizing new technology to support our policing operations. New technologies, new methods, and new ideas have brought significant and important changes in policing. Axon Air is a critically important equipment acquisition to our Service that supports new concepts of operations and most importantly, enhances community and police officer safety with UAV/Drone capability.
The Tsuut’ina Nation Police Service is only the second service in Alberta to fully adopt the body worn camera practice. All our frontline officers are currently deploying the most advanced body worn camera technology, the Axon Body Worn 3. This camera has several features that assist our officers to conduct perform their work more efficiently and safely. The live stream feature allows Incident Commanders to remotely assist with managing high-risk calls in real-time as they monitor the officer’s camera. In the event of a mental health crisis, the officer can also invite mental health professionals to live stream and provide the officers with real time advice or support as they deal with someone who is in crisis. We are strong believers this technology assists in transparency and supports public confidence in our police service.
Technology advancements have also occurred within our officer training program, where Tosguna members now have the ability to practice scenario-based training through Virtual Reality technology!
It is an important time for our Service, as we continue to seek new technological advancements to enhance service delivery to the Tsuut’ina Nation.
Q: How does Tsuut’ina Nation Police Service include Indigenous ways of being?
As a police agency within Canada, we know that policing has not always had a positive relationship with Indigenous peoples across our country. Though, we cannot change history, we must invest in the re-design of our relationship with Indigenous peoples. The Tsuut’ina Nation Police Service is proud to acknowledge that 65 per cent of our sworn members and 85 per cent of our non-sworn members, identify as Indigenous. We must also acknowledge that within our Service there are residential school survivors, 60’s scoop survivors or individuals living with the direct impact of intergenerational trauma, actively participating in the advancement of policing within our service. Our inclusion of Indigenous ways of being is an important and genuine aspect of our agency that we hold close to our heart. We want to ensure we are promoting a space of cultural safety, respect and pride.
To date, we have done significant work within finding the parallels between the western realm of policing and Indigenous ways of being. We have had significant consultation with community on an ongoing basis, in addition to recognizing social justice issues through consultation with subject matter experts, such as Marion Buller (MMIWG Chief Commissioner), to see how we can police while acknowledging the unique needs of Tsuut’ina peoples.
With more research on this interesting aspect of investigative interviewing, personality psychology has the potential
to enable police departments to identify successful interviewers.
We are proud to let Canadians know that we have adopted Indigenous ways of being within our agency at a frontline policing level but also throughout every process within our agency. A few examples include, adapting our ceremonial uniform by the adoption of ribbon skirts for those who identify as a woman, Tobacco and Ceremonial Medicine teachings, smudge offering for employees and victims of crime within our agency prior to completing an interview, Tsuut’ina language inclusion within our greetings and the formal adoption of the name Tosguna (Traditional police of Tsuut’ina Nation People). These are only a few examples of the steps taken at Tosguna to address the need to adapt policing to meet the needs of community in a culturally respectful manner.
Q: Why does community policing work?
A police agency cannot support or help a community until they know what the community needs. Police are not the experts on community, which is why consistent community engagement and dialogue are key. Our community members are the subject matter experts in knowing how we can provide our support and protection to community. A troubling and likely accurate sentiment in many Indigenous communities is that they often feel over policed and under protected. As policing organizations, we need to ensure we are not only present in the crisis related policing situations, but also in the celebrations and ceremonies.
Q: What is one thing you’re most proud of as chief of Tsuut’ina Nation Police Service?
As the chief of the Tsuut’ina Nation Police Service, I am most proud of the ongoing and growing community support from the Tsuut’ina Nation Peoples and in many instances the adoption of our staff within the community. As a Service, we continue to be invited by families to attend family and community celebrations, milestones, funerals, ceremonies and are truly proud to engrain ourselves into the fabric of the community on Tsuut’ina Nation.
Our community support extends to the financial support our Nation provides to its Police Service. Our growth over the last few years, is almost entirely as a result of the support of the Tsuut’ina Nation and Leadership. The Nation alone funds 16 of our officers, while the provincial and federal governments combined provide 10. In addition, the Tsuut’ina Nation fully funded our New Police Headquarters building in 2018, with no assistance from the Federal or Provincial Government Partners. Our service officers and staff clearly understand this support is unique and do not take it for granted, which also reinforces the important responsibility we have to be accountable to and engaged in our community.
Q: In your opinion, what is needed now in First Nations policing here in Canada?
The First Nation Policing Program (FNPP) has experienced success and community support despite the imposed barriers and inequities in funding and authorities. Its success has primarily been built on the hard work, dedication and commitment from the officers and staff.
The FNPP deserves to be designated as an essential service and on equal footing with other Canadian mainstream Police Services. This equity must also extend to funding, which needs to be comparable, long-term and sustainable. Our funding agreements are most often only year to year, and this funding model does not allow our Services to properly and appropriately plan and prepare. Our officers and staff should experience stability and job security that other Canadian police officers often may take for granted. The First Nations Policing Program is antiquated and does not provide the environment to support a long-term vision or the ability to secure long term sustainable funding.
We want equal opportunities and equal footing with the other mainstream policing Service which means the program needs reform. We certainly are not asking for more, but not satisfied with anything less.
Q: What do you see in the near future for the Tsuut’ina Nation Police Service?
The Nation is looking to support our community and future generations with visionary economic development. This development will require us to undertake a new, more urban policing model in our jurisdiction, although we need to ensure this will not change our community based First Nation policing model. In reality, we believe the two can complement each other. We envision our service to be recognized as an innovator in policing prevention and programing as well as an early adopter of technological advancements.