Fostering an ongoing relationship with the Indigenous communities across Vancouver and beyond has been a priority for many years for both the Vancouver Police Department and the Vancouver Police Foundation. A process of listening, understanding and healing has been at work for decades with years of important work in this area still to come. We are proud to fund many programs that benefit both local Indigenous communities and the VPD in a way that garners a symbiotic relationship of thoughtfulness, empathy, and mutual learnings.
One of these programs is the Musqueam Pulling Together Canoe Club, managed by VPD’s Musqueam Liaison Officer, Cst. John Gravengard. As a 13-year member of the VPD, Cst. Gravengard has dedicated his career to going above and beyond to support Musqueam youth. For the last 10 years he has led the Musqueam Basketball Camps and more recently, the Canoe Club. Over 150 youth have been supported and mentored by Cst. Gravengard in this time.
“These programs bring police officers and Indigenous youth together in a fun and meaningful way,” explains Cst. Gravengard. “The kids realize that police are real people with genuine personalities, which allows positive relationships to form.”
As regular participants in the annual Pulling Together Canoe Journey, the Musqueam Pulling Together Canoe Club was in need of updated canoe-related equipment, safety gear and customized clothing in order to participate in the next Pulling Together Canoe Journey. The recent funding from the Vancouver Police Foundation will not only help replace worn-out gear, but also enable Cst. Gravengard to expand and include additional youth to join as club members.
The annual Pulling Together Canoe Journey is a ten-day journey that brings together Indigenous communities, various police organizations, other public service agencies, and youth. The act of both public service personnel and Indigenous people paddling in unison is a powerful symbol of positive relationships and mutual respect. This Canoe Journey has been an important tradition in BC for over 20 years.
It is very meaningful to have this grant because the Canoe Club helps youth casually connect with police officers, which in turn, builds healthy and meaningful relationships,” says Cst. Gravengard. “These youth are largely at-risk or have a criminal history, so they will have solid role models that will impact them for the rest of their lives as a result.”
Having grown up in East Vancouver, Cst. Gravengard observed many kids who had run-ins with the police. He also quickly understood that police are in a unique position to build bridges with the community and to help youth steer clear of a life of drugs, gangs and violence. He believes that people who interact with police in a less formal, entertaining and casual environment see the police for who they are – as people who just want to help and make a difference. It’s one of the reasons why John continues to volunteer so much of his own time.
“I believe if you can be a positive influence on children and youth, it goes a long way terms of them growing into adults that make safe and solid life-decisions,” adds Cst. Gravengard. “My work with the Canoe Club and as the Musqueam Liaison Officer is not only important for the community and for Vancouver, it also provides the Musqueam Nation a better sense of who the police are. We are here to help.”
Working slowly and thoughtfully to respectfully repair and build positive relationships between police agencies and Indigenous communities is a priority. We are proud to be providing genuine support on these stepping-stones towards mutual understanding and partnership. We look forward to listening and learning for years to come.