Greater Sudbury Police reach historic milestone

First Nations elder joins group of religious leaders in support of municipal police

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For the first time, a First Nations elder joins a group of religious leaders to support the municipal police.

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“We have begun discussing the possibility of expanding our spiritual team to include an Indigenous member,” Greater Sudbury Police Chief Paul Pedersen said at a ceremony Thursday. “It was a whole new concept and something we wanted to do well, and as we progressed, almost as it was meant to be, Mr. George Couchie came into our police department.”

The Nipissing First Nation member served for many years with the Ontario Provincial Police and in recent years has been hired by the Greater Sudbury Police to provide cultural awareness training.

He is also a former powerlifting champion whose spiritual name, Zoongiday, means “strong heart” in Ojibwe.

For his spiritual role with GSPS, the Elder is given a new honorary title.

“Traditionally, members of the spiritual team have used the title chaplain,” Pedersen said. “As George is a proud member of the Nipissing First Nation and uses cultural and traditional teachings in the delivery of his training program, he will use the title Shkaabewis. The traditional meaning of this is “help”.

Other members of the spiritual team include Father Ron Perron, Pastor David Spencer and Chaplain Sheila McKillop. Their role ranges from providing inspirational messages and invocations to assisting in stress debriefing and supporting agents during difficult missions.

Greater Sudbury Police Chief Paul Pedersen participates in an Aboriginal Welcoming Ceremony for George Couchie (Shkaabewis) in Sudbury, Ontario.  on Thursday, April 7, 2022. The special ceremony was held to welcome Couchie to the Greater Sudbury Police Spiritual Team.  John Lappa/Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network
Greater Sudbury Police Chief Paul Pedersen participates in an Aboriginal Welcoming Ceremony for George Couchie (Shkaabewis) in Sudbury, Ontario. on Thursday, April 7, 2022. The special ceremony was held to welcome Couchie to the Greater Sudbury Police Spiritual Team. John Lappa/Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network

“They are here to advise our members in response to stress or a family crisis, to visit sick or injured members in their homes or in the hospital, and to advise me on all matters of a religious or spiritual nature involving service. police,” Pedersen said. .

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Spiritual advisors also support the police department “in intercommunity relations in crisis situations,” he added. “The presence of a qualified chaplain or spiritual leader can be beneficial in accompanying our officers to assist with things like death notifications, offering prayers on special occasions, or providing assistance to victims of crime. .”

Pedersen said the idea of ​​adding a First Nations person to the group grew out of discussions he had a few years ago with Const. Shannon Agowissa, the Native Liaison Officer at the time.

Her husband, Joel Agowissa, now chairs the Indigenous Community Policing Advisory Board, having succeeded Jim Eshkawkogan in 2018.

“The Greater Sudbury Police Service has led the way when it comes to police-Indigenous relations, not just in Ontario, but perhaps around the world, and especially in Canada,” he said. . “We tend to set the bar; when services are looking for things they can contribute to their communities, they turn to us. »

Agowissa said he has family in other cities, including Thunder Bay, where the level of trust between First Nations people and the police has seriously eroded.

“I see the state of those relationships in different communities, so I’m very proud to have George here with us and to join this team,” he said. “We have to keep pushing the bar higher and this is a fantastic step in the right direction.”

As the spouse of a former policeman himself, Agowissa said he could appreciate the psychological toll of his work.

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“It’s so important that we not only have a great gym for our body and great lessons for our mind, but that we really exercise our emotional and spiritual well-being,” he said. “Having these good people here on our spirit team really warms my heart, knowing that we recognize our spirit and are here to nurture it and make sure it’s as healthy as our body.”

Couchie, who brought his granddaughter with him to the ceremony, said it was important to nurture the spark that everyone carries and to keep the traditions alive for generations to come.

“For Indigenous people, it’s so important that we rediscover our connection to our stories and our songs,” he said. “They say one man’s voice can change seven generations to come, and I’m so honored to have my granddaughter here today, to show her where we’re going, in the spirit that we carry.”

Couchie said truth and reconciliation remains a priority and a challenge, but police can play an important role in acknowledging past wrongs and charting a better path forward.

“I always say policing is not about enforcement,” he said. “It’s about how to heal our communities.”

Staff Sgt. Laura Wawryszyn, who was instrumental in creating the Spirit Team and sits on its committee, said she “couldn’t be happier” to have Couchie join the group.

“You have demonstrated time and time again your ability to connect with people, to help heal one heart at a time,” she said. “You have demonstrated the ability to change the trajectory of these most vulnerable young people by creating spiritual and emotional connections, with their culture and who they really are.”

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It’s appropriate to reflect a range of religions and traditions because “spirituality can mean a lot of things to a lot of people,” she said. “I like to use the analogy of a TV with different channels because there is always a common theme of connection and a sense of belonging.”

Adding a member of the First Nations community to the spiritual group is “a new direction for the Greater Sudbury Police Service and I believe it is the right choice,” Wawryszyn said.

The event to welcome Couchie took place at the Shkagamik-Kwe Community Center, with elder Martina Osawamick on hand to offer traditional smudging, blessings and chanting.

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