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Tribal Police Files a force to be reckoned with for Island filmmaker

Three seasons of reality TV series captures the stories of officers in First Nations communities

Penelakut Tribe filmmaker Steve Sxwithul’txw’s groundbreaking TV series Tribal Police Files is on the air for its third and final season.

The 13-episode documentary series, produced and directed by Sxwithul’txw and Martin de Valk, premiered Jan. 5 on APTN in English and is broadcast every Wednesday evening (check local listings for time). The season was filmed in the Tsuut’ina Nation located outside of Calgary, Alberta.

The episodes take viewers into the heart-stopping and challenging world of tribal police officers on the front lines of the Tsuut’ina Nation Police Service, in this case. Tribal Police Files follows the officers as they put their lives on the line to keep their communities safe, healthy and proud.

“We’re happy to see it on the air,” said Sxwithul’txw, 56. “We shot that segment for Season 3 in July of 2020. It took some time for post production.”

Stl’atl’imx Tribal Police Service in Lillooet, B.C. was the focus of Season 1 and Season 2 featured the Rama Police Service in Rama, Ontario.

Ending the series after Season 3, “it wasn’t my decision,” said Sxwithul’txw. “It’s a broadcast decision.”

As a former police officer himself, he brings a unique perspective to his work on Tribal Police Files.

“Definitely, this is something that is very close to my heart,” Sxwithul’txw confided.

“The series is reality based. For the most part, it is based on direct experience. I think that tells the best stories. They’re compelling, they’re interesting, they’re a little bit of everything.”

Sxwithul’txw’s family background is Penelakut. He grew up in Duncan and went to the Kuper Island residential school.

Sxwithul’txw got into a career as a loss prevention officer at department stores in Vancouver before becoming a corrections officer. He later went to the First Nations Tribal Justice Institute that provided his basic police experience.

After completing his training, Sxwithul’txw founded the Tsewultun First Nations Police Force in Chemainus that lasted until 2005 and then moved to Stl’atl’imx in Lillooet to continue his career. While in Lillooet, he transitioned into doing some broadcasting at the local radio station.

“They needed people to fill in time slots,” he explained. “It wasn’t long before I had a following. It was a lot of fun. I did that for six or eight months. I decided it was something I wanted to pursue down the road. I put it in my back pocket.”

After enrolling at BCIT for a course in broadcasting, Sxwithul’txw worked with CTV, CBC and spent some time at Global. “The reason I went into it was to tell Indigenous stories,” he explained.

Related story: Penelakut filmmaker Steve Sxwithul’txw finds success in film and TV

Eventually, Sxwithul’txw got to do that more regularly after starting his own production company. He created and hosted the show Warrior Games that highlighted Indigenous sports across North America and won numerous awards for the program.

Tribal Police Files gave him a chance to combine all his experience and expertise, heading back to Lillooet, where he used to work to shoot the first season.

He said it’s been the ideal situation “to jump behind the camera and to be able to tell stories about our people in a different way.”

First Nation policing in Canada has been in place since the 1990s, developing as an important part of self-determination for Indigenous Peoples to have their own police agencies and justice systems centered around their community and cultural traditions.

“The Tsuut’ina Nation Police Service is proud to have been provided the opportunity for APTN viewers to witness the outstanding work of the women and men of Tosguna,” said Chief Keith Blake of the Tsuut’ina police. “Our officers and staff have dedicated themselves to the safety and well being of our community and we look forward to taking you on a remarkable journey through the stories that have impacted the lives of our community members and officers.”

“Working with cameras in any community can be a challenge, but seeing the final result, we are so pleased with its outcome and are grateful for the opportunity to work in the Tsuut’ina Nation with these fine, dedicated police officers,” noted Sxwithul’txw.

The time between seasons of Tribal Police Files has been anything but idle, with numerous other projects in the works.

“I’m always busy which makes it great,” he said.

Sxwithul’txw is already developing a new series, Ocean Warriors, that focuses on First Nations Coast Guards from Ahousat on Vancouver Island along the B.C. coast to Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to highlight these mariners, their families and their communities,” he said. “It’s going to be a great series. I know there’s going to be some amazing stories.”

Sxwithul’txw looks back on all his accomplishments with pride and the pleasure it’s brought him.

“You don’t know what life is going to offer. Work hard and stay focused and do what you love.”

Constable Willy Big Smoke on the Tribal Police Files. (Photo by Jarrett Edmund).
Constable Willy Big Smoke checks out his phone. (Photo by Jarrett Edmund).