WHAT BURNS WITHIN has made the top 10 best reads list compiled by the lovely librarian blogger, Lesa Holstine, and I consider that a real honour.

I was also recently interviewed for Shots Magazine, and you can find out the answers to whether or not I agree that I'm Ian Rankin with ovaries, whether I'll ever set a new book in the US, and what's next for Nolan, Hart and Tain.

I've also been working on pulling something together about FRAILTY that may be of interest to some readers. There were a number of true stories that influenced the book in one way or another. I was also asked at a recent event about the status of policing on Native reserves in Canada, and whether or not there's discrimination against Natives.

One of the incidents it's easiest to refer to is the shocking story of Neil Stonechild. Stonechild was - allegedly - driven out of the city by two city police officers and abandoned. He froze to death. Although this story was not a direct influence for any of the titles I've written or been contracted for so far, but it does speak to underlying issues that need to be addressed in Canada.

For something more specific about aboriginal policing, a recent news article talked about joint efforts amongst police forces to fight organized crime in native communities. I'm posting the article below, because I've noticed that after a few weeks a lot of the links I post to news articles are dead because the stories are often removed.

RCMP, Que., and aboriginal police tackle crime

Updated Mon. Dec. 15 2008 7:18 AM ET

The Canadian Press

MONTREAL -- A joint squad of RCMP, Quebec provincial police and aboriginal police officers is fighting organized crime in native communities and helping boost the skills of aboriginal cops.

"We have contacts in all the communities," says Robert St-Jules, the RCMP staff-sergeant in charge of operations for the Montreal-based Aboriginal Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit.

St-Jules said aboriginal communities are of interest to traditional organized crime groups because in some cases they allow easy crossing between Canada and the United States and touch other provinces.

"The intelligence clearly demonstrates that the different organizational (crime) elements within the province use the geographic location of the communities," he said.

Cpl. Francis McDougall, assistant chief of the 10-man Kitigan-Zibi police force in western Quebec, agreed.

"It seems like organized criminal activities are always trying to infiltrate the First Nations reserves," he said. "You not only see it here but other First Nations communities. I'd say it's a big problem all over the place."

The unit has recorded some big busts since its inception in 2005.

Forty-five people were arrested on drug charges in its first operation - code named Crystal - in 2005, which took down a Hells Angels-linked scheme to send drugs to the far north from Montreal by mail.

Operation Concert, which hit Kitigan-Zibi and the surrounding area a year later, saw the roundup of 26 people on 113 charges including drug production and trafficking to the United States.

Cleopatra in 2006 saw about 35 people arrested in Kanesatake, Montreal and Sherbrooke while Operation Cancun, earlier this year, had 29 people from three native communities and Montreal in handcuffs on 90 charges.

St-Jules pointed out that $2.6 million was seized in that case along with a variety of drugs as well as 24 firearms, including a grenade launcher.

A case can be sparked either by the unit or from information received from an aboriginal police force, many of whom have had officers serving with the unit on a rotational basis.

"We gather all the intelligence and then we decide as a unit which (criminal) organization we're going to investigate strategically," St-Jules said. "The biggest thing that we look at is the impact that that investigation will have. That's very important for us."

Drugs are a major problem in First Nations communities and have been a focus for the unit, which McDougall appreciates.

"The benefit is keeping the drugs out of the community, keeping our community safe, keeping the drugs away from our children," he said in a telephone interview.

"There's so much out there now, new drugs coming up. It's unbelievable what these drugs can do to kids."

The unit operates only in Quebec and is commanded by a Quebec provincial police officer.

It was created after a standoff on the Kanesatake Mohawk reserve in 2004 which was sparked when aboriginal police were brought in from outside to clean up local crime.

The officers had to barricade themselves in the police station while they were surrounded and the band chief's house was burned down.

There are seven aboriginal nations in 53 communities in Quebec, ranging from central reserves like Kahnawake near Montreal to tiny villages in the north.

Besides fighting crime and giving assistance to local First Nations investigations, the unit is a trading post of skills.

"They come and teach us their culture and we teach them different things on how to investigate organized crime," St-Jules said of the collaboration between non-aboriginal and aboriginal investigators.

"It's crucial. These investigations couldn't have been done without the integration of everybody. Everybody brings something to the table."

McDougall said the training is a boon for officers in small police forces.

"These guys we send for training bring back their expertise and inform the other officers," he said.

"They come back and they have a different perspective on how things operate, on certain ways of dealing with stuff."

McDougall noted that aboriginal police departments are usually small and lack the resources and manpower of a specialized task force.

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Comment by Sandra Ruttan on December 31, 2008 at 11:22pm
Ah, yes, I shouldn't have made a blanket statement about the eastern US, but certainly this part of the US. It still took a while to hit me.

Tain transferred? Ha ha. No, it has something to do with an entirely different project.

And I've seen you on a few top 10 lists John - well done!
Comment by John McFetridge on December 31, 2008 at 11:57am
Three top 10's - that's great, Sandra, what I like to hear.

There are quite a few small Native communities in the eastern US, mostly New York state (one Mohawk reserve straddles the NY-Ontario border by Cornwall) and Maine and, of course, the Foxwood Casino folks.

Which reminds me, APTN are launching a new sitcom in January about a casino on Native land in Canada - I'm looking forward to it.

Why, is Tain going to transfer to the international section of the RCMP and get a posting in Washington ;)
Comment by Sandra Ruttan on December 31, 2008 at 11:28am
We live in interesting times, John. I wouldn't be surprised if the 2010 Olympics are a focal point for protest groups trying to raise awareness.

Dana, I take your point about the US. For the most part, I find people open-minded and interested in other places, but there's been the odd time that people stop talking to me when they find out I'm not American.

I was really surprised by the fact that there aren't Native communities in the eastern US, so it wasn't until I thought about it and Brian explained some of the history that it made sense.

And it's very cool to end up on some top 10 lists. I've made 3 with WBW, so I really can't complain.
Comment by Dana King on December 31, 2008 at 6:10am
Congratulations on the Top Ten listing, Sandra. And thank you for the information about Canada's Native issues. We have enough issues of our own here in Baja Canada that such things often pass below the radar (as do many of own issues). So it was surprising to hear until I thought about it for a few seconds. People of most nations aren't as different deep down as we tend to think. All countries have discrimination issues; why wouldn't Canada.

(I make that "People of most nations aren't as different deep down as we tend to think" comment at considerable personal risk, as anyone who says anything except that the US of A is the greatest place ever and everyone here is better than everyone everyplace else is likely to be denounced as a terrorist infiltrator. It's a quirk we Americans have.)
Comment by John McFetridge on December 31, 2008 at 5:20am
It's interesting, the Native population of Canada is about two million now - back to where it was a couple hundred years ago. Plus, it's a young population, so we can expect some changes over the next few years, I hope.

It's true, too, that many Native organizations have gone international, to the UN and places like that. The Canadian government does all it can to block them.
Comment by Sandra Ruttan on December 31, 2008 at 5:09am
Well, I actually had to explain what I meant when I referred to 'Natives' at a recent talk I gave. And even Brian admitted he hadn't really thought about Canada having a Native population. I think if Native issues in Canada are ever to be properly addressed, Natives may have to make their case to an international community that seems partially oblivious to their existence.

And yes, the question of Native policing and discrimination has come up more than once.
Comment by John McFetridge on December 31, 2008 at 4:02am
Congrats on the top ten, Sandra, well deserved.

Did someone actually ask, "whether or not there's discrimination against Natives," in Canada?

I guess I shouldn't be surprised, afterall we spend so much time patting ourselves on the back in this country that we're not "America" we completely avoid what's really going on.

When we elect someone like Phil Fonatine PM we can talk.

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