Cops and Caps

There are now a few members of the Fairbanks Police Department (FPD) that can honestly say, they have made a beaver hat.
Published: Apr. 27, 2023 at 5:34 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - There are now a few members of the Fairbanks Police Department (FPD) that can honestly say, they have made a beaver hat.

They had some help and the help came from some Native Elders in the Fairbanks community.

This was a joint partnership with FPD and Denakkanaaga. This local non-profit serves as the voice for Native Elders in the Doyon, Limited, and Tanana Chiefs Conference regions of Interior Alaska.

The officers came to learn. The Elders came to teach and to share. Together they bonded for the past several weeks before they met up at the Morris Thompson Cultural Center in Fairbanks, Alaska. In addition to making new friends and learning from each other, they also came to sew.

Sharon McConnell, the Executive Director of Denakkanaaga said, “The goal of this is to build a relationship with the police department so they better understand and get to know the Native community of Fairbanks.”

FPD Police Chief Ron Dupee echoed those sentiments. He said he’s thankful his officers can spend time with Alaska Native Elders and learn about the traditions from Interior Alaska.

“The idea behind it is to get every officer to be able to come over and go through this program eventually so that they all have the ability to sit down with the Elders, you know, share stories, communicate with them, and bring their traditional hat back to the department, back to the road, so that they can wear when they’re out on patrol, “said Police Chief Dupee.

Miranda Wright is one of the Elders who has been working with the officers. She said the project has been a way to build a cultural bridge between Alaska Native Elders and law enforcement officers. She said, “I think it’s a really healthy way of collaborating and getting to know one another and what our issues are back and forth.” She went on to say, “It’s been fun. I think it’s been just a great interaction and to be able to adopt someone as a new grandson is also, I think, very heartwarming.”

Officer Sean Lai described the Caps for Cops program with the Elders as “extremely” rewarding.

Lai has a little inside knowledge regarding learning from the Elders. He said, “I’m a local boy from Hawaii, so I understand how important it is to carry on the tradition and to carry on cultures to the next generation.” Lai continued, “It’s just a pleasure to learn these skills that they try to teach us here and to get to come out with something for us to keep us warm in the winter.”

While everyone worked hard making a beaver hat, there was much more to the class. Stories were told. Cultures were shared and a new understanding of Alaska Native culture was gained. The camaraderie did not go unnoticed. Andy Jimmy from Minto, who is Tanana Chiefs Conference’s second chief said, “This here really helps. It gets people. The more we do things together, the better working relationship we have between Native people and non-Native people.”

The Elders and members of the Fairbanks Police Department agreed these classes went beyond needle and thread, and each one that participated came away with a new understanding and a new respect for each other.

Dupee said, “This is one of the ways that we can bring ourselves back to the community and just get grounded again.”

Lai agreed when he said, “You know, we joked a lot this past couple of sessions. There was a lot of laughter. Basically, a second family, at least to me now, that’s how I feel.”

McConnell added, “It’s been wonderful. Like I said, the camaraderie that’s there now is just wonderful.”

Wright was also happy with the project. “I can’t even describe how it feels. I mean, my heart is so full right now. The excitement they’ve had in completing their little project also is really meaningful,” Wright said.

Denakkanaaga and the Fairbanks police said the bridge between the two cultures will continue to be built with more Elder classes planned for the future.