The Manitoba First Nations Police Service (MFNP) is welcoming a new member to the force.
His name is Zion and he’s a one-year-old Belgian Malinois that comes from a long line of working dogs, according to his handler, Const. Travis Assiniboine.
Assiniboine, from Dakota Tipi First Nation, also happens to be the MFNP’s first First Nations K-9 handler.
He said it’s a privilege and an honour to take on the role.
“I’ll do the best I can and I want to be a role model for other First Nations youth that are wanting to get into the field of policing as well.”
Assiniboine said he never had the goal of becoming a police officer but in 2013 he was approached by one of the inspectors for MFNP (formerly Dakota Ojibway Police Service).
“I went and did a ride along and from there it kind of snowballed,” said Assiniboine.
In June, it will be three years since he joined the MFNP.
He’s worked in a few different detachments including Long Plain, Sandy Bay and now Opaskwayak Cree Nation, about 500 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.
That’s where he’ll be heading with Zion after they both graduate from their handler training program in Brandon at the end of August.
Assiniboine said he got experience accompanying one of the other K-9 handlers in his work with previous detachments, and that taught him a lot of basic do’s and don’ts.
During the 16-week course, they are being trained in search and rescue, drug and firearm detection and suspect apprehension.
“He’s a really social dog,” said Assiniboine.
“He loves people. He loves the attention, and he’s a really smart dog. I’m very fortunate enough to have him as my partner for the next seven to 10 years as long as he can work.”
Insp. Dave Scott is in charge of support services and also assists in setting up the K-9 units for the MFNP. He said it’s outstanding that Assiniboine is able to take on the role of K-9 handler.
“He is a real good police officer, is one of the higher end officers in our police service, very keen, willing to get involved and takes part in community events as well,” said Scott.
Around 80 per cent of the MFNP is made up of First Nations officers, according to Scott.
The relationship between Indigenous people and law enforcement is a complicated one, but Scott said the MFNP is unique.
“It’s a community based police service, so if you call the police, you’re going to get the same members for the next two or three or four years,” he said.
Within its mandate Scott said the force also works with community elders and youth groups.
“I think it makes the community feel a little more comfortable knowing that they have that comfort of knowing there’s a search dog out there,” said Scott.
“If someone does go missing, we can deploy the dog to locate those missing people that are out there.”