A video of an RCMP officer in uniform moving in time to drums at a powwow in Saskatchewan is getting a lot of attention.
Const. J.P. Gauthier is from Quebec and he is on a two-year posting to the Waterhen First Nation. He moved there five months ago and said he is eager to have a better understanding of the culture.
An invite from the community had him dancing in honour of the elders. Gauthier said at first he was a bit shy, but advice helped him get over being nervous.
“Somebody told me this weekend, there is no judging in the powwow ground. There is no reason of being shy because here everybody is the same, everybody is the same people, and everybody wants the same thing,” he said.
The atmosphere created by the 800 participants and spectators also helped.
“You hear the drum banging so loudly. Then you hear the people shouting, singing, clapping their hands so you’re actually just following the music. You’re in the zone.”
He laughed while telling the story.
“I am not a dancer at all,” Gauthier said, and his uniform boots didn’t help.
“Your ankle and your calf are actually strained in there, they are just packed in leather, so it’s not easy and the temperature was really warm.”
Gauthier said he was honoured by the opportunity to participate.
“I never meant that to be that big … I just meant to go there and speak with people.”
Someone was taking video, which they posted to Facebook – it’s gone viral.
“It’s completely out of this world that’s for sure,” he said.
His participation was only one piece of Gauthier’s goal in the community. When he arrived on Waterhen he became part of the policing and justice committee, where he was asked to be more than just to police.
“We also encourage them to be a part of our community, not just for the law enforcement part, but to also interact with community members, so it’s not just ‘we’re here to arrest you,’” said Joanne Roy, band councillor with the justice and policing portfolio.
“We encourage them to participate as an individual. Const. Gauthier right from day one, he showed that passion that we wanted to be a part of the community.
Gauthier said He hangs out with people, visits with residents at the town office, and has coffee.
“It goes well. Every time people are seeing me out in my personal vehicle, they’re just waiving at me, so okay I’ll wave back,” he said.
“I’m just trying to get conversation going.”
The video has ignited conversation about the relationship between police force and aboriginal communities.
He has read some comments that said he should teach other officers.
“I won’t teach anything to other people, I’m just doing my thing and if it shows and other people learn from it, that’s perfect,” Gauthier said.
He thinks the RCMP has given him the tools and the possibility to police as he does.
“Dancing in powwows is one small example of everything we can do on a day to day basis, and I think it’s just good that if I do it or any other RCMP member does it, this is perfect,” Gauthier said.
“I feel that it’s the way policing should be done.”
In Gauthier, “(the community members)” see an RCMP that is there to provide some safety in regards to some of the issues that occur in the community, but when you see an officer that is willing and wants to be a part of the community that really opens up [possibilities],” Roy said.
“When they get involved with community members and get to know who community members are, what we find is that membership are more open to trust the RCMP, that they are truly wanting to help with a better and safer community.”
While Gauthier has received accolades from friends and strangers from B.C. to the Maritimes, there is one thing that really sticks out for him.
“What I like the most about what is going on right now is … that a lot of people from Waterhen wrote some positive message about it. That’s really what my concern is.”
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