Ahousaht revives custom of community policing

By Denise Titian, February 24, 2011

Kert John is deputized by the ha'wiih to deal with policing issues in Ahousaht.

Ahousaht — 

Ahousaht–They may have in-community RCMP services, but as Ahousaht returns to old teachings and practices they see a need to re-activate an ancient method of community policing.

Tyee ha’wilth Maquinna Lewis George has called up his Ahousaht Security and sent them out for formal training so that they can resume their policing duties, but with a modern twist.

“We’re trying to get back to what we did traditionally,” said Maquinna. “We’re not supposed to talk about them, but with what’s going on in the tribe we need to bring them back out.”

Since Ahousaht Security have become active, there’s been a big difference when it comes to problems with drugs and alcohol.

“People try to bring booze in and they take it away,” said Maquinna. In one case, according to the chief, the volunteers took drugs away from someone who was subsequently charged by the RCMP for possession of drugs.

 It all started last year when Kert John, having just completed his work in a treatment center, was going through a difficult transition.

“There was a lot of emotions, lots going on in community,” he remembered.

He sat down with his wife, Anne Atleo, to talk about how they could make things better for their people. John said he especially wanted to help the youth and was concerned that things were escalating. He was afraid something very serious could happen if something wasn’t done immediately.

The couple sat down with Edwin Frank, an Ahousaht elder who for years served Ahousaht’s policing needs. According to John, Edwin was branded and deputized by ha’wiih and eventually recognized by the RCMP. Frank shared his experiences with John, telling him what it takes to do police work in Ahousaht. Besides attending calls, John would have to learn to make meticulous notes about incidents he may attend. With that kind of work it wouldn’t be unusual to be called as a witness in any court cases.

“As a traditional officer, Edwin used to travel to neighboring communities at invitation of their ha’wiih to make arrests; he said you have to be accountable, honest, and abide by ha’wiih rules and regulations,” said John.

In addition, one must be clean and sober; otherwise they won’t gain the respect of the community.

John said the difference between traditional policing and the RCMP is that when you work for the RCMP you work for the government, the Queen, and don’t have the powers of a traditional officer appointed by ha’wiih.

Feeling confident that he could take on the challenge, John, along with two other men, approached the ha’wiih with their proposal. On March 2, 2010, the three were deputized in Ahousaht by hereditary chiefs Lewis George, Bill Keitlah and Keith Atleo, who holds the seat for Shawn Atleo as he attends to the nation's business as National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

In the past year, eight others joined the security team and others are interested. Active volunteers are receiving training with The Commissionaires, who offer training in security work, including self-defense. The ha’wiih have provided funding for the training, but it’s expensive and they are seeking funds to train even more volunteers and to purchase safety equipment.

“We’ve been getting involved with going into homes when people are fighting,” said John. His crew has also been summoned to deal with alcohol and drug traffickers, violence in homes and in the streets, business alarms, public intoxication and they deal with drunk driving, both in vehicles and in boats.

According to Chief George, the RCMP can’t do some things that his Ahousaht Security can, like entering homes in Ahousaht to ensure families are OK.

If challenged by community members, Chief George vows he would take his traditional right to the Supreme Court of Canada to defend it if necessary.

“What we’re doing is reinstating what we had before; it’s nothing new,” he said.

The chief talked about recent bad publicity for RCMP, with officers accused of mistreating people that have in their custody.

“When someone is down, it’s not our way to kick them in the head. We need to pick them up,” he said. “Shooting people, using tasers, that’s not what these guys are about. It’s about helping them to their feet and they are not afraid to do what needs to be done to keep our village safe,” said George.

“I’m really trying to support these guys as much as I can,” he continued. He believes the more they push for changes in a good way, the better things will get.

“It’s all about helping out, making right what’s gone wrong, protecting what you have at all costs,” said Chief George.

In addition to general community security and policing, the security team have participated in approaching people that went to treatment last year.

“We participated in the roundup, assisted the RCMP and helped escort the people at Stewardson,” said John.

 When dealing with alcohol and drugs in Ahousaht, John says his crew will confiscate intoxicants and dispose of them right in front of people.

 “We will talk to them. Urge them to change in a positive way,” said John.

He said sometimes it works and sometimes they get negative backlash.

“Some have come back and thanked us after the fact…apologetic, and some have changed their lifestyles,” he pointed out.

And when it comes to the greater community, Ahousaht Security gets positive feedback.

“People thank us. It is helping to quiet down the community and people are starting to understand the role and purpose of the Ahousaht ha’wiihs’ officer,” said John

The current crew now includes Kert John, Luke Swan Jr., Greg Hayes, Wally Thomas, Scott Frank, Gene Duncan, Mike Charleson, Nelson Frank, Shawn McKay, Ken Lucas, and Rachel Robinson. Some are not band members, but neither the chiefs nor the community are making an issue of it. They accept all.

Having a woman on the crew is especially helpful when it comes to dealing with calls that involve women.

John said his new role is making a difference in his life.

“I’d rather be busy helping people who are dealing with something I’ve always struggled with a majority of my life,” he said. “I’m fighting it in my community and trying to make a difference for our children who are upcoming.”

“I don’t want children to have to remember people passed out or drunks in the street. I want them to remember fun at the T-bird hall, things they did at school, positive stuff,” said John.