Health services have been restored in Pikangikum First Nation, but the community is still without a police force after expelling members of the OPP last month.
On March 20, Chief Dean Owen and Pikangikum Band Councilors voted to expel members of the OPP after allegations of ‘incidents involving constables that occurred in the community over many years’.
Ten officers returned to their homes, and Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit began their investigation into the allegations. Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa noted some First Nations officers were asked to stay to help ‘keep the peace’.
Indigenous Services Canada then made the decision to have their nursing staff removed from the community each night before returning in the morning due to the lack of police presence. This briefly left the community without 24/7 health services, a pressing issue during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Independent First Nations Alliance, which represents five First Nation communities in the area, provided temporary, emergency health services to the community each night until health services were restored.
But after leadership met with Indigenous Services Canada and Minister Marc Miller over the weekend, ISC’s nursing staff have been reinstated to the community and will provide 24/7 health services once again.
“The community provided extraordinary security measures and personnel to the nursing station in order to alleviate anxiety and motivate [the] government to allow their nurses to return and help resume operations as soon as possible,” said Chief Owen.
Owen welcomed the nurses back to the community, and thanked them for their work in keeping community members safe, especially in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“Although the overall policing issue is still unanswered, the return of regular nursing services to the community is much appreciated news,” adds CEO of the Independent First Nations Alliance, Mathew Hoppe.
“Now we can get back to the issue of police services in Pikangikum,” stressed Chief Owen.
In a prepared release from the community, Chief Owen says talks with the province regarding the removal and potential return of the OPP continue, but a satisfactory solution hasn’t been found.
“We are a proud and strong First Nation; we need a resolution that matches our community’s wishes. This event has taught us that we must have better control of policing and other government services provided in our community, which we now understand are not in our control.”
Kenora-Rainy River MPP and Indigenous Services Minister Greg Rickford has said Pikangikum has requested the formalization of a community-based Pikangikum Police Service, a similar model to the Lac Seul Police Service.
“Right now, there’s a need for a policing service in Pikangikum. I believe the federal government needs to show some leadership and deploy RCMP personnel to Pikangikum,” says Kenora MP Eric Melillo.
“I’ve spoken with Chief Owen and he’s told me that an RCMP presence would be welcome as an interim measure. I’m calling on Public Safety Minister Bill Blair and federal government to listen to the community and deploy these resources as quickly as possible.”
Pikangikum is currently policed under the provincial First Nations Policing Agreement by First Nation constables, who are employed by the community and supported by the OPP. The OPP administers the agreement on behalf of the federal and provincial governments, as well as the community.
The OPP says they cannot comment on the situation due to the SIU’s ongoing investigation, but note that any decision as to whether OPP members return to Pikangikum will rest with the Chief and Band Council.
Chief Owen says that will happen when they receive an acceptable response from the government.
The Pikangikum First Nation community is located roughly 200 kilometres north of Kenora, with a reported population of about 4,000 members.