Const. Eldene Stanley wanted to be a police officer before women were even allowed in the RCMP. When she received her Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal on Monday, November 19, it was literally the crowning achievement on a career that has brought her back to her hometown of Cranbrook and to the Ktunaxa Nation that raised her.
Stanley found her niche in Aboriginal Policing where she does not only general policing duties, but special programs and support for youth in the Aqam, Yaqan Nukiy, Akisqnuk and Grasmere bands. It’s the perfect fit for the 22-year veteran of the RCMP.
She moved to Cranbrook in 1975 and graduated from Mount Baker Secondary School in 1987. She’s a member of the Ktunaxa First Nation and the pride she has in her heritage is readily apparent.
Stanley knew what she wanted to do long before it was even a career option.
“I knew from an early age that I was going to be a Police Officer,” she said. “In fact, I decided during a time when women weren’t allowed into the RCMP.”
The RCMP began allowing female members in 1974. Stanley started off her career as an Auxiliary Police Officer from 1987 to 1990 before heading to depot training in Saskatchewan. Her memories of that time are of the intense weather she had never experienced growing up in Cranbrook.
“I moved to Regina Saskatchewan and began my training in Depot on January 1st so naturally it was freezing cold. Until then, I had never experienced such a cold winter,” Stanley said.
At Depot, Stanley quickly learned about the RCMP culture and says she adapted well. She entered training physically fit and well prepared and breezed through. throughout her time in Depot, her family was a constant source of support.
“While in training I received a letter from my great-great grandmother,” Stanley remembers. “She commented how she was proud of me for pursuing my goals. She told me to never quit and encouraged me to succeed in all my dreams. That was her wish for me.”
Before leaving Depot, Stanley received a letter from another Grandmother that she’s never forgotten.
“She reminded me, ‘Never forget who you are, never forget where you come from and don’t forget, you are never alone.'”
After Depot, Stanley was posted to Montreal, Dawson Creek and Merritt before finally landing back home in Cranbrook. She did general duty and highway patrol before landing the spot with Aboriginal Policing.
For Stanley, her days include many things beyond general duty. She lends a hand to Ktunaxa Kinbasket Child and Family Services and visits schools in School District 5 when she can, and holds a number of positions with Ktunaxa youth organizations from running to Aboriginal dancing.
“I love working in Aboriginal Policing. I love that there is so much opportunity and potential for our First Nations Communities,” Stanley said. “I most like working with our fantastic amazing youth.”
Stanley is active in the Aboriginal Policing Summer Student Program, Ktunaxa Nation Dance Troupe, the Ktunaxa Running Club, and Ktunaxa Boot Camp.
When Stanley talks of her time with the Ktunaxa youth programs, she can barely contain her pride.
“Earlier this year on a Thursday night we had 54 participants show up for Dance Class just eager, willing to learn,” she said of the Ktunaxa Nation Dance Troupe. “Our performers are naturals, and make my job as director/producer so very easy.”
The Aboriginal Policing Summer Student Program introduces students to policing if they are interested in pursuing a career. So far three students have graduated.
“This program provides opportunity for the cadets to experience a summer of policing to help them determine if law enforcement will really be their career of choice,” Stanley said.
All of Stanley’s involvement with youth wouldn’t have happened without the support of her family and friends, many of whom were at the St. Eugene Mission Golf Resort and Casino on Monday to see Chief Superintendent Mike Sekela pin her Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal on. Stanley said it was a wonderful moment when it was pinned on.
“I felt a great sense of accomplishment for our Ktunaxa people. I thought of Elders, and others who supported me along the way. They never lived to see the day: that part of me felt a bit empty and a bit sad,” Stanley said.
The family and friends that were there leapt up to take pictures as she saluted and accepted the medal.
“I’m glad there were able to be there. I have always been supported by my family, friends, community and the Ktunaxa Nation,” Stanley said. “I have done well in life, because I know that I am part of something strong. I stick close to my family, elders, culture, language, customs and traditions. We Ktunaxa are fortunate, all these components have remained intact.”
Stanley still can’t figure out who nominated her for the medal in the first place
“I never did find out who nominated me for this medal – nobody will confess,” she said. “I must emphasize, the honour and credit lies with the great team that I am a part of. I was nervous, but felt a great sense of pride when Chief Supt. Sekela pinned my medal.”
The relationship between the Ktunaxa people and the RCMP has not always been so positive, and Stanley acknowledges the time when members would attend to remove children from their homes to be placed in Residential Schools like the St. Eugene Mission.
“It is a sad part of our history. Children were ordered to attend Residential Schools,” Stanley said. “If they didn’t and if their parents didn’t comply, the RCMP would attend and enforce those sections of the Indian Act which allowed the child to be removed from the home and brought to Residential School.”
But the nation has risen above the dark memory of Residential Schools, and Stanley is one of many that provide leadership and mentoring to Ktunaxa youth.
“Attitudes and relationships have improved and continue to improve,” she said. “Being a First Nations woman who wears the uniform has peaked curiosity in our Aboriginal youth. Listening and interacting positively with them has helped improve the relationship.”
She hopes that some Aboriginal youth will follow in her footsteps, and hopes the positive message she carries with her will resonate.
“Hopefully some of them would be interested and pursue a career in the RCMP,” she said. “I’m willing to answer questions they may have. I encourage all our youth to stay in school because education is key. I encourage our youth to dream, to believe and to go after their dreams.”
Stanley remembers looking up to Muhammed Ali as a child, who proved to her that the colour of her skin did not limit her.
“He taught me that it was okay to believe that a person of colour could be anything they wanted to be. When I grew up I was gonna be just like Ali. I grew up thinking and believing ‘I’ma show you how great I am.'”