Reimagining Indigenous Police ServicesThrough culturally based & trauma-informed workplace wellnessBy A/Chief Scott Cooper, Wikwemikong Tribal Police Service, and Dr. Marion Maar, Northern Ontario School of Medicine University (NOSM U) Medicines used in Anishinaabe ceremonies. WTPS utilizes a four-day sacred fire that includes a welcoming ceremony for newly onboarded police officers and cultural teaching for community members who attend the four-day period. Police officers are constantly under intense public scrutiny as they fulfill their role as first responders and are confronted with highly stressful incidents. In these fast-paced, evolving and extraordinarily complex situations, they are expected to quickly choose the best possible course of action.Officers routinely intervene in situations marked by threats of interpersonal violence against them. They witness victims’ pain and the suffering of individuals and their families. When they take statements from victims, they bear witness to stories about family violence, abuse, sexual assaults and death. Officers are exposed to vicarious trauma and secondary traumatic stress at rates that are many hundred times higher compared to the experiences of other people. We must acknowledge that this intense exposure to traumatic events has an impact on the well-being of officers.Research shows that crisis intervention training can improve coping skills. Nevertheless, witnessing traumatic events can lead to intense feelings of apprehension and physiological effects on the brain and body, which are not necessarily under voluntary control of the officers. As stress response can become instantly activated in an event, so are mental acuity, defence reflexes and fight responses. Yet, over the long term, this frequent activation of stress responses can lead to compassion fatigue, burn out and mental health issues.This common experience of personal stress responses to vicarious trauma is not yet sufficiently normalized within police organizations. For many, job stress has been significantly exacerbated as a consequence of the changes in working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic, including responding to opioid crisis-related crimes, mental health and suicide calls. Instead of being proactive to prevent burnout, police leaders usually have little choice but to wait for officers to resort to sick leaves once the burden becomes too enormous.Wellness & Indigenous Policing Indigenous police officers frequently work in under-resourced conditions. Officers policing rural and remote Indigenous communities are at a higher risk of physical victimization and unintentional injuries. Research shows that this police work exerts an even greater psychological toll on the officers than on their municipal counterparts. In addition, Indigenous officers who work in their home communities often respond to calls that involve individuals who are family members, friends or acquaintances. This compounds the mental stress exposure for officers even further.Moreover, the historical consequences of colonial policies such as the forced removal of children from their families and physical, sexual, mental and spiritual abuse of generations of many Indigenous children in school systems have led to a heavy burden of intergenerational trauma in many Indigenous communities.Many community members have experienced high rates of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE), discrimination, racism, poverty and socio-cultural exclusion. Indigenous officers are not excluded from these experiences. Indigenous police officers must find ways to operate within the legacy of colonialism and the often negative connotations associated with law enforcement organizations in Indigenous communities while managing their own secondary traumatic stress.The roles of police officers in Indigenous communities are more complex because the officers are naturally often focused on engagement rather than enforcement. Under the traditional, Western model of policing, officers are evaluated on how quickly they cleared calls and responded to calls for service, rather than how well they solved problems and engaged in balancing of the rules and values of the community in a holistic policing approach. A new collaboration between the Wikwemikong Tribal Police and researchers at Northern Ontario School of Medicine University (NOSM U) is currently underway to address these complex issues, focusing on the cultural strengths of the Anishinaabe people1 in Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory.Workplace Wellness In line with the Comprehensive Ontario Police Servicing Act, this trauma-informed workplace wellness initiative is focused on building relationships with community groups such as cultural Knowledge Keepers, Indigenous Elders and community organizations. Cultural Knowledge will be integrated with mental health and trauma research to support officer wellness in a project that is funded by Ontario’s Community Safety and Policing Grant and the Canadian Institute for Health Research. The goal of this project is to reimagine officer workplace wellness through the development of trauma-informed, culturally based support services designed to deal with vicarious trauma among officers and to heal relationships between community and police.To achieve this goal, the project focuses on three areas:1. Work on a better understanding of how to strengthen the relationship between the tribal police and the community through ongoing grassroots community dialogue sessions. We are learning that many community members recall negative and violent experiences involving police since their childhood. They talk about a past when police enforced colonial policies, apprehended children, took them to Residential Schools and intervened in cultural and ceremonial practices. This history is reflected in the Anishinaabe word for police, dakoniwewinini, which means the “one who will take you away.”It is this colonial legacy of violence and distrust that Indigenous Elders and community members say must be addressed first. During our dialogues, Elders encourage the creation of positive stories about police by providing more positive and culturally congruent community interactions. It is important to involve the community as this will allow the police to understand local problems and determine causes, not just treat symptoms.Advocating for Indigenous PolicingThe First Nations Chiefs of Police Association and the Indigenous Police Chiefs of Ontario advocate on behalf of Indigenous police organizations, their members, and Indigenous communities.The First Nations Chiefs of Police Association ( serves Indigenous police services and territories across Canada by facilitating the highest level of professionalism and accountability in their police services.The (IPCO) is an organization representing the nine standalone Indigenous Police Services in Ontario, servicing a total of 86 Indigenous communities. These include:Akwesasne Mohawk Police Service (AMPS)Anishinabek Police Service (APS)Lac Seul Police Service (LSPS)Nishnawbe-Aski Police Service (NAPS)Rama Police Service (RPS)Six Nations Police Service (SNPS)Treaty Three Police Service (T3PS)United Chiefs and Councils of Manitoulin Anishnaabe Police (UCCM)Wikwemikong Tribal Police Service (WTPS)Elders encourage police officers to walk among the community, carry themselves with humility, be involved in school activities, participate in community events and involve elders for support with de-escalating situations with offenders. They also stress the importance of participating in cultural events and ensure that the Seven Grandfather Teachings2 are embedded and enacted in policing work and mandates. Elders share their perspective that both Indigenous and non-Indigenous officers should be grounded in the cultural practices of the community they work in. Elders say this will help build mutual respect and trust between officers and the community.2. Train police officers to respond in culturally appropriate ways to trauma responses manifested by victims, by developing culturally based, trauma-informed interviewing capacity, court briefs and integrated referral systems in the first responder, health, mental health, addictions and social services sectors.3. Create a trauma-informed and culturally based Anishinaabe wellness support program for officers, first responders and victims/clients, especially those involved in mental health, addictions, domestic violence and human trafficking calls. So far, healing programs have focused almost exclusively on victims and offenders, and rarely on police officers. Officers are required to do courageous jobs every day and need someone to confide in when needed and to help them reconcile their role as enforcers while serving their community. But all too often officers have to go outside to get help, and most of these services are not easily accessible due to concerns about confidentiality.Our proposed training modules will focus on improving officer well-being through land-based and cultural activities led by traditional Indigenous Knowledge Keepers based on Anishinaabe approaches to responding to trauma and supporting those who are overseers and safe keepers of the communities. We are exploring the characteristics of land-based and cultural activities that support recovery from vicarious trauma in order to return to a state of wellness known in the Anishinaabe language as living a good life, or mino-bimaadiziwin.In all our efforts, our intention is that this framework for trauma-informed policing has the potential to be adapted by other Indigenous and mainstream police organizations.Scott Cooper is A/Chief of Police of the Wikwemikong Tribal Police Service and Dr. Marion Maar is a professor in the Human Science Division at NOSM U. A/Chief Cooper can be reached at Dr. Marion Maar is a medical anthropologist, Curriculum Chair for Northern and Rural Health and founding faculty at NOSM U. Her widely published research expands over two decades and has included culturally safe approaches to mental health and addictions in collaboration with First Nations communities. 1. Anishinaabe people are a large cultural group of Indigenous peoples who live in the Great Lakes region of Canada and the United States and beyond2. The Seven Grandfather Teachings are Indigenous teachings of ethical code of conduct that should be informed by teachings related to Love, Respect, Bravery, Truth, Honesty, Humility and Wisdom.