When Constable Alan Chamberlain stepped into his role as the Calgary Police Services’ only Indigenous Liaison Officer four years ago, he was building on the work of previous officers to address systemic racism in the service and to challenge and break down barriers that violate Indigenous communities. Now, his focus is on the future of the role, as he prepares to hand the job to a new officer.
Chamberlain, a member of the Métis Nation of Alberta, is the only Indigenous Liaison Officer for the Calgary Police. He is also passionate about Indigenous issues, implementing calls to action, and decolonizing colonial systems.
Before Chamberlain started his journey into policing, he was an addictions counsellor and a probations officer.
“I felt in my heart I was not helping as many people as I could and the satisfaction was not there.”
Chamberlain always knew he wanted to work in law, but he felt like he was not reaching his full potential and he wanted to take more action in his community–-is when he started his journey in law enforcement.
“One day, it was so weird because it just clicked, and I was like it took me this long to figure out,” Chamberlain says.
He first had to create trust with the community and stresses that having inclusivity and looking through an anti-racism or Indigenous lens is important in his work and to giving a voice to Indigenous people.
“You see me at protests liaising with protesters making sure their rights are being heard, from liaising with families and community to getting phone calls at 11:30 at night saying, ‘Here is my story and what can we do about this?’ And then on top of that we talk about decolonizing,” Chamberlain says.
Within the police service, Chamberlain acknowledges the story of historical distrust and their involvement in residential schools. He wants to move forward and create change that is sustainable, consistent education and training within the police service.
“Talking about these policies and procedures, all these police things that have been designed hundreds of years ago and we know what they had been designed for, you’re not fooling anyone in 2021. Let’s look at that and see what can be changed to be more inclusive.”
Constable Justin Thomson, the new Indigenous Strategic Coordinator, says the media plays a considerable role in shaping public perceptions of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Although contemporary representations are more accurate and inclusive of Indigenous perspectives than at any time in history, they are still often corrupted by misinterpretations and lack of historical or cultural context
“The way media perpetuates Indigenous people, sort of the fallacy of the history began at colonization, which is a huge disservice to Indigenous people because Indigenous people were here for tens of thousands of years and had their own systems, governance, trades, diplomacy and, sometimes war.”
The Indigenous Liaison Officer also works with numerous agencies and programs to help promote awareness and healing within the community. This collaboration serves to better educate the Calgary Police Service of current issues as well as provide opportunities to assist the community in its own healing.
“We can help with mental health connections, housing, and addiction. And we can work all together in a collaborative approach for that healing, and I believe that is the true meaning of community policing.”
Thomson, who also works to bridge the relationship between police and Indigenous communities, knows how important Chamberlain’s role is.
“Alan is on his phone 60 hours a week or at community events. Out being a member of the community, engaging with the community, listening to the community, and bringing the feedback from the community to me as well for the rest of CPS,” says Thomson.
But Chamberlain’s role as the Indigenous Liaison Officer is coming to an end soon, and he will be preparing and mentoring the next officer, bringing him or her into the community in a good way. Through his role he has built great relationships among the local Indigenous communities and has memories that will last a lifetime.
“All the connections I have made, all the people I have met from being adopted to having a traditional name going to ceremony all those things kind of encapsulates. This is my life, and it is weird because it is a journey I was put on that you did not even know you were on, until somebody asks a question and then you have to look back. Yeah, this where I am supposed to be.”
Chamberlain wants to make sure that the support and partnerships with community organizations is ongoing.
“There [are] so many programs that we started up that we want to keep going. Our backpack program, the Christmas campaign. All these programs we have started up, to keep these going, it is going to be a lot of information for the next person.”
Chamberlain hopes to see the CPS continuing organic growth within the organization and improving relationships between police and Indigenous residents.
“We are all a community and let’s work together. Whether that is at a protest, a march, an event or a ceremony. That is the important thing. I will always be connected with the community and that is not going to change, whether I am on the front line or on the streets,” Chamberlain says.