Chris Gosselin is a corporal in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), overseeing their Urban Indigenous police unit which serves people who — like Chris himself — live away from their community. Chris’s traditional name is Macademaqua, “that comes from the black bear people.” His family is Ojibwe Miki from Manitoba, and Chris is registered with the Tutstuanabing band. But Chris was born in Thunder Bay and grew up in Chilliwack, where he lives today. Chris has five children; his wife is Kitimat, and she is also an Indigenous officer with the RCMP.
Ever since Chris was a young child, he dreamed of being an officer in the RCMP. Mostly because his early memories of their interventions were very positive. “I grew up in a home of addictions. Alcoholism was very prominent in my family. There was lots of violence growing up, and to be quite frank, when the police showed up they would put a stop to the violence.”
Unfortunately, Chris’s young life was rough outside of the home as well. “During those troubled times at home, like many kids, I struggled at school. I was deemed right away to be a problem kid, learning disability. We lived in poverty, so we were picked on…. I dealt with some racism, teachers making comments toward Indigenous people. I was young, I didn’t have the ability to deal with it, so I lashed out.”
One kind teacher offered Chris some advice that made a huge difference in his life: “Every time you act like that,” Mr. Olsen warned, “you fall into that stereotype.” He said, “I know you have this dream to be an officer, but you’ll never do it by fighting or smoking pot. If you truly want to live that dream, you’re going to have to make a decision.”
Unfortunately, Mr. Olsen’s words couldn’t protect Chris from systemic racism. “I was kicked out just before graduation. In Grade 12, the vice-principal came to me and basically told me that a guy like me doesn’t need school, doesn’t need to graduate.” Chris concedes, “I get that I was a problem child at school, but I think there were more underlying issues why he didn’t like me.”
Years later, when Chris was awarded the highest citation a police officer can get in Canada, a man approached him to shake his hand. It was the vice-principal. “He said to me, ‘I’ve been watching your career….I always knew you would do something with your life.’” Chris shook his hand, “but inside, I knew that he knew his whole message to me when I was young is, ‘You’ll never amount to anything.’”
Chris has used his experiences with family trauma, abuse, racism, and poverty from an Indigenous perspective to inform and advise government ministries and police around the country, through the Aboriginal Community Conflict programme, as a First Nations liaison, in First Nations policing, and with the Urban Indigenous project. “It’s nothing that I have to learn on an online course. I’ve lived it as a young person. I’ve lived it as a young police officer. I’ve lived it as an Indigenous man.”
As an example, during the COVID pandemic, Chris was successful in connecting reticent Indigenous communities with RCMP health and safety services. “It was difficult to navigate through the community when they don’t want outsiders.” Chris was sensitive to concerns among the elders. “It was a real fear; nobody understands epidemics and diseases like our people and how it devastated Turtle Island.”
Chris’s goal has always been clear to him, “I joined the RCMP to serve my people.” But the first time Chris applied, he wasn’t accepted. “It just devastated me.”
However, over his long career in policing, he always kept his eye on that goal. “It took me until I was 35 years old to fulfill that dream.”
“It’s been a journey,” Chris admits. “It’s very tough to work between the world of policing, [with] its own culture, and then work between our people from a cultural perspective. Some times it’s very trying to bring those two worlds because, unfortunate in the history of the RCMP, we took part in things like the residential schools. It’s a very black part of our history that I think many Indigenous officers have worked hard to change. We’ll never [erase] what happened, but I think moving forward, we all understand there’s an importance to wear this uniform and for all of our people, whether it’s elders, whether it’s young people, to see us and have a sense of pride that as much as the system is not perfect, we have Indigenous people doing that job.”
Chris hopes Indigenous youth will pick up the work he has started, and consider joining the RCMP. “If you are an Indigenous person, this is an amazing time to get recruited and travel the country and work with our people. But just because you’re Indigenous, doesn’t mean you have to work on the reserve. You could be a helicopter pilot, you could operate an RCMP boat, you could be a diver, an ERT member, SWAT, a dog man, you could take fingerprints, or work on homicide units.”
As Chris says, “You don’t change an organization from the outside.”
Special thanks to Jessica Dee Humphreys for authoring this blog post.
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