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Mar 13, 2019

The Prince Albert Grand Council has signed a new agreement with local police and the RCMP to work together on search and rescue operations involving missing people.

PAGC Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte signed the memorandum of understanding Wednesday afternoon, along with Prince Albert Police Chief Jon Bergen and Assistant Commissioner Mark Fisher from the Saskatchewan RCMP. The agreement is the first of its kind in Saskatchewan and sets out formal roles and responsibilities when it comes to use of the PAGC’s search and rescue team.

The team officially became part of the Search and Rescue Saskatchewan Association of Volunteers in December. Hardlotte said the MOU is an important partnership that insures police will work with local First Nations’ leadership on missing persons files.

“You don’t want to wait. The earlier that you respond, if a person is lost, your chances are better in finding that person,” Hardlotte said. “I hope this sets a precedence with the other tribal councils and the First Nations throughout this country.”

Local police have already partnered with the PAGC on search and rescue operations, including last summer in the search for young Sweetgrass Kennedy. Having worked with the PAGC already, Bergen said there’s value in continuing the partnership and working with those who have specialized skills and equipment, especially when it comes to water searches.

“Moving forward we knew that that was a partnership we wanted to build on and we needed to build on,” Bergen added. “There was a special skills set that we as police didn’t have, and we have access to it now and vice versa. We believe it’s a true partnership where we each bring something different toward a common goal.

Fisher said the MOU formalizes some of the work that’s already been happening in some Saskatchewan communities. Early communication and cooperation with local residents and community leaders are integral in any missing persons case, he said.

Knowledge of the local landscape is also an important factor, he added.

“A lot of these incidents will come down to what happened leading up to an event,” Fisher said. “As RCMP, we come in and out of a community, we have large territories to cover, and having that localized expertise is a great asset for us to work closely with.”

Fisher said there will also be important training opportunities with the new partnership.

“On local knowledge too and knowledge of the area. Often, you’ll learn about that in a training exercise that will come into play and be a big benefit in an actual operation of some sort later down the road,” Fisher said. “So, we encourage our members to spend some time learning about that prior to an incident happening and I think that serves the community as a whole.”