Tuesday, December 23, 2014

No end in sight

Many residents in the respective communities of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation and the Town of The Pas are asking themselves pivotal questions as another act of violence; took the life of OCN band member, Hilliard Lathlin on December 12th, 2014.

Preliminary investigation reports by the RMCP Detachment along with autopsy results have led to the arrest of 19-year-old Race Evan Shingoose: a resident of OCN, was known to the stepson of Hilliard Lathlin. Shingoose has been charged with second degree murder and is currently being remanded into custody until his first court appearance in The Pas, Manitoba sometime in the New Year. It is believed that Shingoose may have been affiliated with gang members and/or has participated in gang related activities on OCN and in the Town of The Pas.

Arriving in The Pas/OCN the following day to coordinate his foster brother’s funeral arrangements, Neal F. N. Cook cannot fathom the degree of despair taking hold, I don’t have the education or experience in trying to help troubled youths. Or helping with parents who are slightly older than me. I want my community to act like human beings; who can co-exist and prosper. Not animals who take and kill.”

Hilliard Lathlin’s passing will be remembered or forgotten by what will be done in the future. It is what Cook ascribes to accomplish; to mold the future. Retribution is not an indigenous concept, at least not within the Canadian definition of the word. Efforts are being made to examine more closely what steps can be taken. Steps to heal, think, and act accordingly.

The determinants of the Lathlin case now resides within the judicial court system. Those who believe in punishment will strive for Shingoose to be sentenced to the fullest. Social discourse into the specifics of the crime, its perpetrators and ultimate length of incarceration to be expunged by Shingoose are shared amongst everyone. Many residents feel that the judicial system is broken. Therefore, not expected to satisfy the most hardened opinions that Shingoose will somehow be undeserving of a full and just sentence: life in prison.

Most equate Gladue reports as a ‘get-out-of-jail card’ for First Nations person found criminally guilty.  Racial discrimination experienced by First Nations peoples in the judicial court system is a matter of historical record. The Gladue Supreme Court Decision is a means to rectify that injustice.  The Research and Statistics Division of the Department of Justice Canada affirms that, According to the Gladue decision, two types of information are particularly relevant in the process   of   sentencing   Aboriginal   persons:   (1) information   on   their   background   and (2) information on alternatives to incarceration.”

In the matter soon to be before the court in The Pas, the public consensus believe that invoking Gladue based on race to be a miscarriage of justice. Saskatoon criminal lawyer Brien Pfefferle articulated his thoughts to Christopher Guly in the June 14th 2013 issue of The Lawyers Weekly.
Gladue reports aren’t supposed to argue your case for you. They’re supposed to give background from a third-party perspective and present it as a non-biased history of the person before the court. It’s up to lawyers to show how the factors of that person’s circumstances as they pertain to their aboriginality apply to the case before the court, and present that information in a way that sheds light on the offence.”
 Gladue or not, Cook is of the opinion that the time to act and purposefully implement a series of mechanisms to mitigate acts of violence on OCN to be paramount, How many more unnecessary deaths/murders do you need before you start caring? I will be ashamed if no precautionary and/or preventative measures are put in place. Help yourselves. If you lose my respect, then you have failed. What is done cannot be undone, Cook understands this. It is why his screams for justice rings loudly and puts to task his entire community to honor his brother’s spirit.

Gang related activities is but one of the many issues facing all communities in Canada. What is occurring in The Pas/OCN are not isolated cases pertaining to being indigenous. Unfortunately there are those who are like-minded and stipulate that if change is to manifest itself; it must do so within First Nation communities. Elders, mothers, wives and sisters continue to advocate on behalf of their families. Too many loved ones have fallen prey to drugs and alcohol. Too many youths have lost the value of respect. Respecting ones’ own mind, body and spirit; and that of his/her brethren.

According to past OCN band member Don Dorion; many on reserve factors; such as the systemic lack of adequate housing, addiction dependency and abuse, along with chronic lack of employment fuels acts of violence,As the housing director in 2008, I implemented a policy which stated that: any band member harboring a fugitive or gang member or anyone associated with gangs on OCN lands would lose their privilege of having a house.

Dorion further explained,…Including residences where illicit gang activity was being done. The gangs moved to The Pas because family members and relatives didn't want them in their homes for fear of losing their houses.”

Data released by Statistics Canada illustrate the need for an overall accounting of violent occurrences on First Nations communities.   Based on the 2011 National Household Aboriginal Survey population profile of OCN; there are 140 youths aged between 19 and 24 years of age among the 2,595 people living on OCN.

Cognizant of his community’s time of loss, OCN Junior Chief Jeremy Sinclair deferred to speak to the media about the issue for the time being.  Sinclair continues to push for more services to be managed directly under the mandate of the Junior Chief and Council. According to Sinclair, there are too many youths like Shingoose who are made to feel disposable. Violence begets violence. What is the value of a life?

In terms of on-reserve and off-reserve numbers are concerned, “…In 2005, the on-reserve rate was 28,900 offences per 100,000 people, while the off-reserve population experienced 8,500 offences per 100,000 people (Quann & Trevethan, 2000)” - First Nations Communities at Risk And in Crisis: Justice and Security.

15 years have lapsed since the data presented under this report was published. Undoubtedly, the data has changed; and not for the better. Violent offences such as Lathlin’s murder suggests poor leadership. The Muskoday First Nation (formerly the John Smith First Nation) in Saskatchewan, spoke to this question. Addressing the need to curtail, and restrict the ability of gangs, gangsters, and gang related activities; this First Nation community launched a comprehensive study and resulting from it: a plan.
“…one purpose of this initiative is to identify the assets of Muskoday community members and staff to help eliminate violence in our community. Another purpose of this initiative is to help build our nation’s capacity to provide effective community-based intervention and prevention support services to victims of violence, their abusers and all families that are involved. In essence, this initiative has been designed as a tool to mobilize Elders, Band members and staff of Muskoday, to work collaboratively to eliminate violence in our community.”-

Outlining what the report describes as ‘capacity building’ the Muskoday First Nation model reiterates the need for the grassroots leadership to increase its ability to offer supports,Providing community members and staff with additional means to offer support to victims and abusers will contribute towards a wider spread solution to this community problem.” The Muskoday example is exhaustive. It decided to implement a logic model designed to meet their goals. Logic models are often used to graphically illustrate methodologies to identify where available resources can be utilized for specific outcomes, and create tangible results.

Holistic approaches towards healing are gaining formal recognition and validity when discussing the second emphasis of Gladue Decision. Alluding to the success of the Ojibwa Hollow Water First Nation located in Manitoba; the Muskoday Initiative is convinced that, …including supports for both survivors and perpetrators of family and community violence, to be integral ingredient to reduce acts of violence.

The Hollow Water First Nation Community Justice Approach is described to be, “…hold(ing) perpetrators accountable for their acts of violence, while maintaining the view that the person is a valuable member of the community with many gifts of offer. It maintains hope through the belief that, despite the long-term commitment needed to create ideological and behavioral changes, that healing is possible.

The Hilliard Lathlin family, friends and extended relatives need justice. As a community, OCN must atone for the past, look to the future and deal with the present. They and all who reside in The Pas/OCN will look to the judiciary to follow due process. They will look to their elected leaders for solutions. They will seek guidance from front line workers who work tirelessly with the vulnerable, the addicted and the homeless. They will expect action from within.

The 2014 Action Plan to Address Family Violence and Violent Crimes Against Aboriginal Women and Girls, promises to invest 25 million dollars over five years. Under this latest report, The Honourable Dr. K. Kellie Leitch, P.C., O.Ont., M.P. Minister of Labour and Minister of Status of Women proposes that the 11 point summation below; to be significant in lowering the number of violent (on-reserve) offenses.

• The development of more community safety plans across Canada, including in regions identified as high risk through the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s recent operational overview ($8.6 million over five years)
• Projects to break intergenerational cycles of violence and abuse by raising awareness and building healthy relationships ($2.5 million over five years)
• Projects to engage men and boys and empower women and girls in efforts to
• Denounce and prevent violence ($5 million over five years)
• Victim services and assistance to victims and families ($7.5 million over five years)
• Actions to share information and resources with communities and organizations, and report regularly on progress made and results achieved under the Action Plan ($1.4 million over five years)
• In addition to the $25 million investment from 2015 to 2020, the Government of Canada is taking    action to protect Aboriginal women and girls by:
• Funding shelters and family violence prevention activities, at a level of $31.74 million annually ($158.7 million over five years)
• Supporting the creation of a DNA-based Missing Persons Index to help bring closure to families of missing persons, with an investment of $8.1 million over five years and $1.3 million in ongoing funding
• Continuing to support police investigations through the National Centre for Missing Persons and        Unidentified Remains and dedicated RCMP Project teams.

Many Canadians and First Nations peoples will expect these measures to succeed. In the meantime the number of young girls, boys and women who continue to be victims of violence will mount. The latest case on the Paul First Nation* speaks for itself. Neal F. N. Cook traveled back home to bury a brother, to hold those responsible accountable, to pay his respects to his elders and most of all…to believe his community worthy to regain his respect.

* 21-year-old James Paul Clifford has been identified by the RCMP as the assailant of a six-year-old indigenous girl from the same reserve (West of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada) who was sexually assaulted on December 20th 2014.

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