Serving in Community: David Laviolette's Helping Work in Indigenous Policing
There’s a famous Mr. Rogers quote that says “Look for the helpers” and that’s who David Laviolette aspires to be… a helper in his community. He’s a member of Muskeg Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan and his father is a residential school survivor who served in the Canadian Armed Forces. As a self-described “Army brat”, Laviolette moved a lot, living in nearly every province in Canada and also in Europe. His father retired when he was in high school and their family moved to Northern Ontario, where his dad taught fire safety in First Nation communities.
Laviolette went to college in Thunder Bay, taking Police Foundations, and then joined Weagamow Lake Police, serving in a fly-in community of Ojibwe people for five years. From there, he joined Treaty Three Police for several years. In 2015, he went onto work with the Ontario Provincial Police for five years in Sioux Lookout, a community referred to as the hub of the North given it services many fly-in communities. Next, he moved to Eastern Ontario just outside Ottawa, working as general law enforcement and as a Marine operator. Two years ago, he was promoted to sergeant to the OPP’s indigenous policing Bureau, also known as the provincial liaison team.
Law enforcement interested him because his family had a history of military service that he didn’t want to continue with. His grandfather, dad, and brother all served and he didn’t want to. He wanted to help people and some of his hockey coaches were police officers who made an impact on his life. Laviolette still plays hockey now, just for fun.
He isn’t the only one in the family working in policing. Laviolette’s sister is a special constable with the Ontario Provincial Police in Sioux Lookout, running the court services and he met his wife in police college. She works for the OPP now also. His cousin works with Regina Police, so he has a lot of family who understand what his career is like.
When he was in high school, Laviolette had no interest in policing. When he was about to turn eighteen, he started thinking about what he wanted to do with his life and briefly considered becoming a paramedic. He was a typical high school kid and his coaches gave him advice about how to approach career planning and opportunities to volunteer. He spent time playing cards with seniors at a local retirement home and he helped out as much as he could around town, working multiple jobs to stay out of trouble.
His advice for students who are thinking about leaving their community to go either travel or learn abroad is to save money because costs are going up. He travelled after high school by working and saving his money. Because he didn’t come from a wealthy family, he saved up to go see the Caribbean Islands and Europe. His dad pushed him to learn about the value of money by working and he got his first job at the age of 11 delivering the newspaper in minus 50 degree weather.
Other jobs Laviolette has held have included being a dockhand at a fishing camp, cleaning fish, working construction and at a paper mill in the summer during college. Those days at the paper mill paid for his schooling so he didn’t have to take out student loans.
It wasn’t always smooth sailing, but he’s found his way into a job he loves. “Career wise, I've always just tried to work really hard and try to show people what assets I have. Sometimes I got shut down,I didn't get hired right away. With policing, it took me a couple of tries. I just never gave up. I just kept on trying out and I kept on applying till I finally got it,” he recalls. He encourages youth not to give up and shares how it took him about four times to end up where he wanted to be.
Over the course of his career, he wasn’t always promoted when he hoped he would be and he found the hiring process for promotions overwhelming. There was a test and a four-person interview panel and he asked for mock interviews and sought out advice from people who had been successful before him. “There's always people there willing to help and you’ve just got to look for it,” he urges.
While he was devastated whenever he didn’t land a job or when he was passed over for a promotion, he just kept on trying and leaned into the support from family, friends and coworkers. If he could give his younger self advice, it would be to look for support from community, friends and family. When Laviolette was younger, he kept a lot of things bottled up and he would want to tell his younger self not to do that because there are people who can help.
During his downtime, Laviolette works out at the gym, goes for runs, goes fishing and hunting and spends time at his cottage whenever he can. He has three kids and he coaches their hockey, spending lots of time on the ice during hockey season. Doing things with his family keeps his mind off of work, something that can often be a challenge when his work phone frequently interrupts family time. Sometimes colleagues cover him off so he can have a break because family time is important to him.
Inspiring him to do the work that he does is the opportunity to address the knowledge gaps around things like residential schools and Indigenous history. “I like to teach people in my service and outside my service about my culture. That's what drives me to do what I'm doing,” he shares.
To inspire youth, he would like to say, “Just don't give up. Work hard. Life is tough. Just don't give up and just keep trying. There's people out there to help you, not only in your community, there's people outside of your communities that want to help. There's always people out there to help.” David Laviolette’s advice is a lot like Mister Rogers, and when people look for the helpers in his community, David is one they will find.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
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