Star blankets bestowed upon former police chief and his wife
Troy Cooper was honoured to even be invited to last weekend’s round dance.
The former Chief of Police for Prince Albert, Cooper, who recently began work as the chief of the Saskatoon Police Service, was looking forward to experiencing the annual Northern Lights Casino round dance at the Senator Allen Bird Centre.
“Just participating in a round dance and being invited to participate was what I thought I was attending for,” Cooper said. “That in itself was an honour. I know a lot of the elders from the surrounding communities and developed really strong relationships with them. Being invited back, participating in a feast, listening to the tradition and then witnessing some of the beauty of that culture was awesome.”
But the casino and the Prince Albert Grand Council had another surprise in store.
They presented star blankets to Cooper and to his wife, Erin.
“To be awarded a star blanket along with my wife, that was very emotional and very, very humbling. It was overwhelming,” he said.
“To have that honour in front of my friends and community members was something really special for me.”
The moment was also special for Cooper’s wife Erin. By awarding her a blanket, the community recognized the importance of family support in one’s life.
“She was staggered. She did not expect that,” Cooper said.
“I think it speaks to the culture we’re surrounded with. They recognize family is critical, and they know that when you have a position like mine, the family wears it often. It’s a very difficult job to do without support at home. They recognize the value of women in relationships, in families and in communities. When they gave her recognition, she wasn’t expecting it, but she was certainly appreciative.”
At the time of Cooper’s departure, he was praised for making inroads with the Indigenous community. He appointed an advisory council made up of women elders and often attended Indigenous ceremonies and memorials for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
For Cooper, Saturday’s ceremony was a sign he’s on the right track.
“It gave me some idea that what I had been doing might be going in the right direction,” he said.
“It gave me resolve to continue the work that we’ve been doing around including culture and including community in police organizations.”
That’s especially important now, as the province and the nation deals with fallout from two controversial court decisions involving First Nations victims. Many Indigenous people don’t trust the justice system, including the police, Cooper said, and dialogue must happen for society to bridge that gap.
“It’s not just a local issue. The conflict and stress between police, justice and the Indigenous community, to be included, to be part of healing, I think was really important from the police chief perspective,” he said,
“The Grand Council has shown that they understand that we need to work together and find solutions, and they’re not easy solutions. We’ve got a lot of young people in the community that need support, and police, I think, can play a real role there.”
That doesn’t just apply to Prince Albert or Saskatoon. Those issues and those discussions are taking place across Saskatchewan.
“The fact that I was working in the City of Prince Albert, those were false boundaries,” Cooper said.
“The Indigenous community is not just in one city or another. There are a few different players in positions of governance, but a lot of the people are the same. A lot of the issues are the same. For me, a real special part of the recognition was that (the Grand Council) understood that I was doing my best to have a healthy community and an inclusive community.”