TORONTO - Sgt. Chantal Larocque hopes that singing “O Canada” in English, French and Algonquin at Rogers Centre before a Toronto Blue Jays game will open everyone's eyes to the possibilities of creating a more inclusive game experience.
Larocque, who is an officer with the Anishinabek Police Service, sang the national anthem on Saturday as part of the Major League Baseball team's ceremony for National Truth and Reconciliation Day. She said that including Indigenous languages in the national anthem more frequently would help Canadians work toward reconciliation year-round, not just once per year.
“It's what we do the remaining 364 days in the year where we can break down the barriers, the stereotypes, the misinformation that we've received over the years in the education system,” said Larocque. “Maybe it will open the door to all sporting venues to have performances of 'O Canada' with Indigenous language.
“The more we expose people to it, I think the more we're headed toward reconciliation.”
A moment of reflection was part of the ceremony, followed by Larocque's rendition of the national anthem.
Chief Jamie Wolfe of Muskowekwan First Nation, Chief Lloyd Buffalo of Day Star First Nation, Chief LeeAnn Kehler of Kawacatoose First Nation, and Chief Byron Bitternose of George Gordon First Nation were scheduled to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Members of the Touchwood Agency Tribal Council, part of the Jays Care Indigenous Rookie League, were on hand at the Jays Care Community Clubhouse.
Larocque said it was an honour to be included in the ceremony and that she's happy the Blue Jays are shining a spotlight on the Anishnabek Police Service.
“It's so meaningful to me but so many other people as well, because, at the end of the day, it's not about me, it's about Indigenous people,” said Larocque. “It's about Indigenous policing.
“How often have you seen Indigenous policing be highlighted in a positive way? What a huge honour for our little police service to get this opportunity.”
The Anishinabek Police Service serves 16 First Nations communities across Ontario. It has 71 sworn officers and 20 civilian members at 12 detachments.
“We're mandated to provide the same services (as other police forces) but we do it in a culturally sensitive manner, more in tune to the history of Indigenous people in Canada,” said Larocque, noting that police officers from other forces were used to forcibly remove children from their families and put them in residential schools, making Indigenous policing an important part of reconciliation.
“The one thing we do, I think, better than most police service services out there is community policing and we do it without any funding.
“We do it because we're involved with the community, we're engaged with the community, and often community members are friends, relatives, family members. It's that personal touch that makes us a bit different.”
Jays Care, the Blue Jays charitable foundation, also donated a total of $150,000 to 13 Indigenous-led organizations across Canada.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 30, 2023.