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The First Female Aboriginal Deputy Commissioner Sheds Light on What the RCMP Looks Like Today

Meet Brenda Butterworth-Carr, who makes every day count towards inclusiveness, diversity and equality for tomorrow.

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 Brenda Butterworth-Carr, RCMPphoto credit: Farah Nosh

As the first Aboriginal woman to receive this top rank in the RCMP, here’s how Brenda Butterworth-Carr is making her role a successful one.

While most 13-year-olds excel at thinking only about themselves, a teenage Brenda Butterworth-Carr was already putting others top of mind. The current Deputy Commissioner of the BC Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) recalls a pivotal moment while chatting with a group of cousins in her home community of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in in the Dawson City, Yukon area. The topic: discussing how they could collectively make a difference in their community which faced family challenges, domestic violence and addiction issues.

“What I saw happening internally in the families just wasn’t acceptable, and I recognized that if we were going to change it, we had to be a part of that change,” she says. “Our elders fundamentally believed that equality and justice is really important. What they wanted from all of our people, citizens of the various First Nations 14, is that we did what we could. What they really wanted, was that we were able to work in any kind of organization, and that we work toward effecting positive change. That we would bring awareness to our communities, and globally, of the things that we lived every day.”

As Butterworth-Carr considered various law-related roles, such as becoming a conservation officer or behavioural scientist, she became increasingly fascinated with law and justice. Specifically, how you could bring harmony into a community and into your own family in a positive way, she says. Inspired to follow in the steps of family members, she joined the ranks of the RCMP as a Native Special Constable in 1987. She’s never looked back.

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A glimpse into the highlights of Brenda Butterworth-Carr’s career so far.

Today, having earned a career’s worth of highlights after serving in various locations throughout Canada, Butterworth-Carr’s role as Commanding Officer of the BC RCMP keeps her situated at their Headquarters in Surrey, BC, and leading thousands of employees. An advocate for inclusiveness, diversity and equity, it’s fair to note that she’s the first Aboriginal woman to receive this top rank.
“Something I say frequently, and that I’m very committed to, is that wherever you are in this organization you have the ability to influence and make change,” she says. Not that it’s happening any time soon, but those factors will also come into play when she’s ready to move on. “When I leave this organization I want to know that I did everything that I possibly could have to make it a better place,” she says. “That every effort that I’ve put in is about providing people that I’m responsible for with the ability to be successful, to come to work and genuinely work in a manner that’s healthy, and that they have what they need in terms of tools, skills, equipment and training.”

Mental health awareness is also something she is very passionate about

“If I have great people that are happy coming to work, that’s the type of service they’re going to provide,” she says, crediting part of her success with being able to have a good laugh. “It’s important to take your work seriously, but not yourself. You just have to create the lightness in the room because what we deal with every single day can be wearing on you, you have to find the balance,” she says.

What she’s grateful for

Being able to count on a solid team is equally essential. “I’m grateful every day I come to work because of the senior team that I have. We create an environment where people feel comfortable bringing up any issue in a respectful way, and I need to facilitate that. People tell me what I need to hear, not what they think I want to hear, so we can make good decisions together.”

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RCMPphoto credit BBC

Why being physically fit is a law enforcement job requirement, and one that Brenda Butterworth-Carr gives top priority.

“I’m very committed to my health and well-being for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, I believe I have to look after myself every day and be the best version of myself if I’m responsible for 10,000 other employees,” she says, “I better be prepared to invest in myself so I’m on my game all the time.”

Her tactical approach is designed to interject movement throughout the day

To start off, she incorporates ten minutes of stretching into her a.m. routine to increase blood and oxygen flow. By mid-afternoon she’s likely to be found in the office gym. “I’ll go two to three times a week and get on the elliptical or treadmill to get the cardio in. For anywhere between 30 and 60 minutes I’m there and that’s where my head is. It gives me the opportunity to clear my mind and then come back into the office environment and continue working,” she says. After work, she makes time for regular massage therapy and chiropractic appointments; and uses an exercise ball at home for additional stretching.

What her diet entails

While the majority of her meals adhere to clean eating, Butterworth-Carr fesses up to having a couple of well-loved vices. “My day starts with a cup of coffee, over and above the morning stretch. And I’m definitely a chocoholic,” she says, “I usually have milk chocolate once a day, which I know is nowhere near as good [for you] as dark.”

Beyond diet and exercise, Butterworth-Carr has a healthy respect for a holistic approach to life. “The physical, mental, spiritual and emotional all need to be nurtured and cared for because the moment one is off a little bit it’s like having a triangle instead of a wheel,” she says, “And I can tell the moment I’m not committed to all four aspects, when one is not being embraced or supported as well as it could be.”

Related: The perfect diet for your body type.

How she remains connected to her spiritual beliefs

Remaining dedicated to her spirituality, Butterworth-Carr participates in First Nations traditions such as going to a sweat, as well as annual vision questing. The latter requires intense preparation, including prayers and the making of an altar with tobacco ties to create a very sacred place for the days-long custom. For vision questing, typically around National Aboriginal Day in June, Butterworth-Carr also undertakes a 30-day elimination diet to prepare her body for continuous days of fasting. “For me, it’s the most grounding place to ever be. I call upon my ancestors to watch over me. And it’s a place where there are no electronic disruptions, you don’t talk, you don’t interact with anybody. It’s a quiet time where I’m there, and that’s the only place I am,” she says, “It’s the most cleansing, most healing process that I’ve ever gone through. And I’ve had some of my most significant epiphanies.”

Brenda Butterworth-Carr’s ultimate achievement: Family.

Butterworth-Carr has decades of public service under her belt but has experienced her greatest challenge in her role as mom. When one of her three sons was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis as a young adult she recalls being blindsided. “It just took the wind out of me completely. I remember sitting there thinking I have to hold it together because the first instinct was this overwhelming feeling that I’ve just failed my son,” she says. The journey has provided some meaningful perspective. “What I learnt from that was to take the time to really pay attention to what was happening on a personal level within my family,” she says, “I’m not at all suggesting that I was absent, it wasn’t that. It was maybe not taking the breath that I needed to spend with my sons.”

But it was this experience that had a strengthening effect on the family

“From there we grew incredibly close. We leaned in hard. And the other thing was, for myself, reaching out to people outside of my family. That was something I hadn’t been good at previously, and I learned to do that,” she says.

Family remains Butterworth-Carr’s brightest achievement to date, too. “I’ve had some pretty amazing highlights professionally, but bar none it’s my boys. It always will be. Being a mother is an incredible honour and privilege,” she says, “I probably didn’t appreciate that as much as I could have when they were younger because I was a very young parent. I grew up with my sons. My mom once said, ‘You may think you’re raising those boys but they’re raising you.’”

All signs point to a job well done.

Related: For those big family dinners, we have you covered with these make ahead meals.

Best Health Canada
Originally Published in Best Health Canada