The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in Canada have their origins as a colonial military force. Their history is one of settlerism and class domination on an ongoing basis. They continue in the present to police and regulate and repress Indigenous communities through targeted violence. This must be remembered in any case of RCMP contact with Indigenous people and communities in Canada.
Alberta RCMP shot and killed Ralph Stephens, 27, on the Stoney Nakoda First Nation near Morley on Saturday, January 7, 2017. Stephens died in hospital about and hour after being shot. Police claim they were on the reserve to execute a warrant for first-degree murder charges related to the death of Lorenzo “Billy” Bearspaw, also 27, whose body was found on the reserve on January 6 after he was reported missing on January 3 by a family member. The other men pursued by RCMP, John Stephens, 29, and Deangelo Powderface, 22, have both been taken into custody by the force. John Stephens was arrested directly prior to the killing of Ralph Stephens. Major Crimes with assistance from the RCMP Emergency Response Team were involved.
No one has said why police opened fire on the victim. Nothing has been reported to suggest he confronted or attacked police. Police have only said that Ralph Stephens “engaged police” but this has not been corroborated by any independent sources or witnesses. Several people were said to be in the residence at which Stephens was killed when the shooting happened.
The dangerous nature of this police action and the prospect it will stoke justified anger toward RCMP are clear. Police seem concerned with dampening any response. Chief Superintendent Tony Hamori, the officer in charge of Southern Alberta made an appeal with no note of accountability or reasons for adherence: “I also urge calm in the community while the investigations take place” (quoted by Anderson 2017).
Community members describe a chaotic scene after police arrived on the scene. According to Gerald Powderface, a relative of Ralph Stephens: “My family told me it happened so quick, even my cousin was asking them ‘Have you shot my boy?’ They didn’t even answer him, they just dragged him out of the house without no shoes and they’re throwing people out of the house left and right. They didn’t even answer his question, ‘Have you shot my boy? What happened, what’s going on here?’” (quoted in Anderson 2017).
The community has come to the family’s care and support. According to Gerald Powderface: We have a community here that support each other on every matter, especially a matter like that. They all come to the house. There was a lot of people there last night when I left” (quoted in Anderson 2017).
The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT), the agency that investigates cases of police harm to civilians in the province, is investigating the RCMP actions in killing Ralph Stephens. RCMP continue to maintain an active presence on the reserve since the shooting.
Whatever one might think about this particular case the fact remains that an historic settler colonial force built on dispossession, expropriation, and genocide continues to police Indigenous communities across Canada.
Anderson, Drew. 2017. “Man Shot by RCMP on Stoney Nakoda Reserve is Dead.” CBC News. January 8. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/stoney-nakoda-morley-rcmp-shooting-died-1.3926701