The North-West Mounted Police was established in 1873 by the government of John A. MacDonald. The Cypress Hills massacre as well as the increasing number of conflicts on the U.S border due to alcohol smuggling are often cited as the main reasons the MacDonald government passed the bill creating the new military-style police force. However, most historians agree that the primary reason for establishing the force was to control First Nations and Métis populations, as the government sought to populate the West with settlers. Under the central authority of Ottawa, the NWMP marched West in 1874. The NWMP served as an arm of colonial control for politicians and lawmakers in Ottawa. For Indigenous communities in the Northwest, it represented an additional source of repression. The newly formed para-military style force was entrusted with wide-ranging powers and duties. Officers acted as Justices of the Peace, able to apprehend and sentence offenders, as well as impose Indian Act polices such as the Pass System. Since western courthouses did not exist at the time on the Prairies, NWMP barracks were often used for court proceedings and as temporary prisons. The NWMP assisted Indian Agents with the ration system, as well as enforcing laws obliging Indigenous students to attend residential schools. Government policies such as the Residential School system, the Sixties Scoop and gender discrimination in the Indian Act subjected Indigenous families to violence, cultural dislocation and land dispossession. The NWMP was successful in instituting a system of surveillance and curtailment, restricting Indigenous people to their reserves, regulating their land use and criminalizing livestock theft to benefit settler farmers and ranchers.
Current police-Indigenous relations are a product of the historical reality in which the NWMP and subsequent RCMP acted as an active arm of colonialism for the canadian government. This historical context fuels a sense of mistrust, suspicion and resentment many Indigenous people feel towards law enforcement officers. In a 2017 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) interviews were conducted with Indigenous women in Saskatoon regarding their experiences with police officers. Women reported that they would not call the police to report a crime committed against them or crimes that they had witnessed involving an Indigenous woman out of fear that the police may harass them, engage in physical/sexual violence towards the suspect, or take them on a "starlight tour" (see database entry on Starlight Tours). HRW found evidence of a fractured relationship between police officers and Indigenous people in Saskatchewan. Human rights experts have also raised concerns over entrenched and institutionalized stereotyping of Indigenous women by police and RCMP officers. The HRW inquiry reports that: "The United Nations inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada reported that structural bias was reflected in the use of demeaning or derogatory language towards Aboriginal women and in stereotypical portrayals of Aboriginal women as prostitutes, transient or runaways and of having high-risk lifestyles". On a provincial scale, Indigenous people have reported being victims of racial profiling and targeting. Following the 1885 Resistance, the NWMP in conjunction with regular military forces, participated in quelling the resistance as well as apprehending and punishing the members of the Resistance (see database entry on the reign of terror). Other punitive measures carried out by the NWMP included withholding annuity payments, confiscation of horses and arms, and well as property destruction. As the impacts of the 1885 Resistance remain present to this day for many Métis and Indigenous people, so does the role played by the NWMP. The 1885 Resistance was accompanied by a shift in perception and attitude of colonial settlers towards Indigenous and Métis peoples. Although historians have uncovered several instances of NWMP officers acting with fairness and concern towards Indigenous and Métis people, however as Brown and Brown (1978) argue, that did not alter the nature of the force and its mandate. Owing to it's nature as a colonial police force, many Indigenous people never felt the force was there to protect them and their rights. In addition, Indigenous people recall instances of racial targeting and surveillance by police officers - primary and secondary sources (listed below in "relevant resources") indicate that RCMP/municipal police discrimination and violence are re-occurring experiences of Indigenous people in Saskatchewan. During the last decade, several calls to actions have been made by Indigenous groups who accuse the RCMP of neglecting their investigations that concern Indigenous people. In the wake of the upcoming Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls inquiry, many Indigenous organizations have expressed their wish to see the inquiry examine whether or not the RCMP under-investigated the deaths and disappearances of thousands of Indigenous women.
1874 March West and subsequent police and Indigenous relations.
Bill Wilson interview on Metis experiences of RCMP discrimination, brutality and retaliation as well as discrimination in the welfare system and post-secondary education
Police Abuse of Indigenous Women in Saskatchewan and Failures to Protect Indigenous Women from Violence
Policing Indigenous Peoples on Two Colonial Frontiers: Australia's Mounted Police and Canada's North-West Mounted Police
Rupturing the Myth of the Peaceful Western Canadian Frontier: A Socio-Historical Study of Colonization, Violence, and the North West Mounted Police, 1873-1905
Shining Light on Dark Places: Addressing Police Racism and Sexualized Violence against Indigenous Women and Girls in the National Inquiry