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‘I don’t know if you’re my friend or my foe’: Protesters call for reform of Six Nations police department

Several dozen people picketed outside the Six Nations police station on Friday, decrying what one protester described as “30 years of injustice and abuse” at the hands of officers who protesters allege are free to act with impunity.

“It’s just the years and years of corruption our people have faced,” said Mike Davis, a Six Nations member who was arrested in October 2019 when Six Nations police raided an alleged cannabis dispensary on the reserve.

Davis, a member of the Six Nations Peoples Cannabis Coalition, said officers used excessive force during that raid, leaving his brother Ryan concussed and Dallas Porter, another Six Nations member, with a bruised face after being slammed to the ground.

Davis said this is only one example of alleged police misconduct. But without any outside body to investigate complaints against the police, Davis said the department conducts its own investigations into allegations of officers abusing their authority, which are routinely dismissed.

“They’re able to just brush things under the rug down here after they treat members of the community like this,” Davis said. “There’s a lot of families that have been assaulted by these police officers. The community has to take it upon themselves to ask for help. Enough is enough.”

Newly minted police chief Darren Montour told The Spectator that it’s a strength to have band members on the police service.

“I see First Nations policing as the model for community policing,” he said. “The police have to represent the community they’re part of.”

But Davis said there’s a flip side to that argument, alleging that officers let things slide where friends and family are concerned.

“There’s people on this reserve who can get away with whatever they want if they have family on the police force,” Davis said.

He would like to see officers “outsourced” from other First Nations communities to reduce the likelihood of biased policing.

“We want accountability on the reserve,” Davis said. “Right now, we don’t feel safe.”

Deputy Chief Dave Smoke walked over from the station to talk with the protesters, who demanded body cameras, drug tests for officers, and a survey to gauge the community’s views on policing.

“This could be a good time to do one,” Smoke said of the survey, while also committing to body cameras for his officers.

“We are working on body cameras already. That’s something we are in total agreement with,” Smoke said, adding that officers would have “no problem taking drugs tests if ordered by somebody with the authority to do that.”

The crowd called for police to respect band members.

“We matter too,” one protester said.

“That’s why I do this job. That’s why I’m here,” Smoke responded.

Donna Silversmith, a Six Nations member from the Cayuga Snake Clan, told Smoke that the relationship between the police and the community is broken.

“As a Haudenosaunee woman, I don’t feel safe in this community and I don’t feel safe calling you guys,” Silversmith said. “And it should not be that way. I don’t know if you’re my friend or my foe.”

“Change has to happen. I agree,” Smoke responded. “You’re all community members, we’re community members. We’re in this community together.”

Jake Doxtador said the police force, which is funded by the federal and provincial governments, shows bias toward Six Nations members who support the elected band council as opposed to the Confederacy chiefs.

“It’s like there’s two standards on this rez when it comes to the cops,” Doxtador said, alleging that band members who follow “the Canadian system,” as represented by the band council, get preferential treatment as compared to “those who uphold the traditional side.”

Colin Martin, a police liaison from the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council, called for the Confederacy to assume control of policing Six Nations based on traditional Haudenosaunee morals and ethics.

On behalf of the HCCC, Martin offered cultural training for Six Nations police officers, a program that Smoke said was already in this works before “COVID messed it up.”

Instead of cracking down on cannabis dispensaries, Doxtador would like to see police efforts directed at stemming the flow of more serious narcotics such as opioids.

“They should be tackling the hard drugs on the rez,” Doxtador said. “Which I guess they’ve started, but there’s still more to do.”

Smoke said the police force would welcome more resources from Ottawa to aid in drug enforcement, body cameras and other programs.

But he stressed that he and Montour would focus on accountability within their ranks.

“Making our own officers accountable for whatever they do – that’s where it begins,” Smoke said.

J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator

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