I just experienced journalistic blunt force trauma.
An assault on the truth and a journey down a venomous path rife with fatalistic racist ideas that have to be confronted.
It’s a story that will undoubtedly be lauded by many people from the Aboriginal Community who buy into the endless victimization and racist rhetoric. It will also impress a large number of gullible politically correct people who believe everything they read.
If you haven’t read the story, please do, it’s a must read for people who strive to be socially aware. Be forewarned, it is more like a short story than a newspaper article, as is my rebuttal.
The title; “On the front lines of the missing and murdered women tragedy, pain never fades” written by Randy Turner Winnipeg Free Press.
I would like to add some balance to the story, confront the racist conjecture and challenge people to do some critical thinking.
The focal point of the story is Missing & Murdered Aboriginal Women, the Canadian tragedy.
The article so rife with racist lies and biased perceptions that I feel compelled to stand up and be counted for the silent majority that will undoubtedly be offended by the content.
I will start by pointing out the lies and then I will do my best to confront them.
The report suggests reasons driving the tragedy; “Perhaps because the women who are never seen alive again are invariably the victims of a perfect storm of hurt; gender inequality, overt racism and social injustice. Poor Aboriginal Women.”
On July 13th, 2012, Project Devote, the RCMP – WPS task force investigating Missing & Murdered Women in Manitoba, released statistics related to their findings.
In all, twenty (20) homicides and eight (8) missing person cases were linked by one factor, the individuals were all at a high risk of becoming victims of violent crime due to high risk, dangerous lifestyle choices such as: substance abuse, transient life style, involvement in the sex trade or participation in hitchhiking. Mental Health issues were also cited as a factor.
These causation factors are tangible results painstakingly extracted from volumes of files contained in cold case binders while the suggestions of gender inequality, overt racism and social injustice are based on perceptions.
Grand Chief Derek Nepinak reported that at least eighteen (18) of the twenty-eight (28) cases the task force is investigating involve Aboriginal Women.
So what conclusions can we draw from the seemingly forgotten thirty-six (36%) percent of non-Aboriginal women that have been reported murdered or missing. Does gender inequality, social injustice and overt racism apply to these cases, or do we just accept the fact that they were killed largely because they lived a high risk lifestyle? The reality is that this isn’t just happening to Aboriginal women, a factor that waters down the suggestion that racism is a primary contributing factor.
I certainly do not deny that societal racism towards Aboriginal People exists, and that gender inequality and social injustice are factors that contribute to the central issue. However, the suggestion that Aboriginal Women are going missing and being murdered simply because of racism, gender inequality and social injustice completely ignores the realities discovered by the research conducted by Project Devote.
This is NOT about victim blaming, it’s about REALITY, and the reality is that high risk lifestyles are one of the most important causation factors that contribute to the numbers of Missing & Murder Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Women.
Focusing blame on racism, gender inequality and social injustice distorts the reality and removes responsibility for people to make safe, healthy life style choices.
Blaming these societal ills absolves our social services for their failure to erect effective social safety nets and to develop programs that would help to keep Aboriginal & Non-Aboriginal women off the streets and out of the crack houses where they are exposed to so much danger.
Blame is a negative, unproductive pursuit.
Leslie Spillet, executive director of Ka Ni Kanichihk, a community based services center that has developed a program for families of Missing & Murdered Women provides us with a “clinical, fundamental history lesson” and her interpretation of the current state of affairs.
“Fast-forward through generations of reserves, relocation and residential schools, and go figure that nobody cares if another dirty squaw goes missing. She was probably just another whore looking for crack.”
The suggestion that nobody cares if another “dirty squaw” goes missing is purely outrageous racist rhetoric.
I have lived my entire adult life in middle class Winnipeg suburbia and have never heard the term “dirty squaw” and have never been exposed to the sentiments expressed by Spillet. Not in my community, not in my work place, not in my family, not anywhere.
Kim Anderson, Aboriginal author & researcher states “”If native women are constructed as ‘easy squaws’ and are locked into this imagery through the behavior of individuals, they will continue to be rendered worthless in public institutions such as courtrooms or hospitals.”
More racist rhetoric now directed at the Courts and Medical Professionals.
My experience in Manitoba Courts tells me that Justice can be elusive for people of all races. Sentencing for the ultimate crime is often grossly inadequate, the value of all human life sadly reflective of a desensitized legal system.
In reality, male and female Aboriginal offenders receive extraordinary considerations in our Courts by virtue of the need for Judges to apply the Gladue Report when arriving at a “fair” sentence. (R vs Gladue – 1999 Supreme Court of Canada)
Many people feel that Gladue is a racist decision that further promotes societal racism and division, sentiments expressed by Winnipeg Sun columnist Tom Brodbeck on April 12, 2102.
You can find the story here; http://www.winnipegsun.com/2012/04/12/the-law-is-racist-brodbeck
When it comes to Manitoba Medical Professionals, I have to say that the notion that Doctors and Nurses in our Province perceive Aboriginal Women as “easy squaws” or “worthless” is a blatantly false, racist and inflammatory accusation.
I have three (3) medical professionals in my immediate family. One Doctor and two registered nurses, all of them caring committed professional care givers who have extensive experience treating Aboriginal people.
In fact, for over a decade, one of them has opted to exclusively work with Aboriginal people in Northern Manitoba. She does so because she cares about the people and respects & enjoys Aboriginal culture.
I don’t have the facts and figures but I feel confident that the Manitoba Government spends significant dollars on Aboriginal Health Care in the Province of Manitoba.
Anderson continues; “If we treat native women as easy or drunken squaws in the court system, we feed negative stereotypes that will further enable individuals to abuse native females, and so on. Native female images are part of a vicious cycle that deeply influences the lives of contemporary native women. We need to get rid of the images, the systems that support them and the abusive practices carried out by individuals.
I spent over twenty-five years enforcing the law in the City of Winnipeg. A significant amount of that time was spent providing evidence during literally hundreds of trials at our Law Courts.
Not once did I ever witness a case where an Aboriginal woman was treated as a “easy or drunken squaw.”
I would admit that the Courts don’t place much value on evidence provided by sex trade workers when it comes to prosecutions, many of these prosecutions are related to their victimization for sexual assaults or other offences.
The Courts seem to judge these victims harshly and often focus on credibility issues that arise from addiction issues or prior criminal history.
Race was never the issue, not overtly or covertly.
Leslie Spillet asserts; “We know that every morning, a man in south Winnipeg wakes up and drives to the North End to rape children.”
The reference to “south Winnipeg”, a predominately white community, can only mean one thing.
Interpretation; “Every morning, a “white man” in South Winnipeg wakes up and drives to the North End to rape children.”
Another inflammatory, racist, divisive statement that is simply not true.
The fact is that men from all races, religions and creeds patronize sex trade workers. That is true today and it has always been true. The sex trade thrives in almost every major City in every Country across the entire planet.
The fact that Spillet harbors these racist beliefs is disconcerting, especially when you consider the fact that she has a leadership role as the executive director in a Government funded Aboriginal Organization.
I’m not sure how her racist rhetoric meshes with her mandate to elevate Aboriginal people.
Chickadee Richard, a longtime activist and outreach community worker tells us about an incident when she was walking her ten (10) year old daughter to school when a car pulled up and the man offered her $10 for oral sex.
“That traumatized me. What right do you have? I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. Because I’m native and walking down the street you have the right to do that? When is it going to end? You’ve been beaten down so much you don’t want to get up. You lose faith in humanity.”
After tens years of marriage with someone who struggled with alcohol addiction I was forced to take a hard look at myself and examine my deepest feelings.
Part of this process included taking an intensive program at AFM that focused on healthy feelings and relationships. One of the most important messages I learned during this process was that we all have the power to choose how we feel.
A message that I would like to share with Chickadee Richard.
The fact that you blame the entire incident on your ethnicity shows a limited understanding of the encounter.
You were walking in an area that is frequented by a high number of Aboriginal female sex trade workers. As an activist and community outreach worker you should not have been surprised that you were propositioned.
The fact that you internalized the incident is unfortunate. The expression of loss of spirit and faith in humanity is incredibly sad. You could have processed the incident in a much different fashion that didn’t include the need for you to be traumatized by the encounter. It wasn’t your fault that you were propositioned.
You were propositioned by a flawed human being who undoubtedly suffers from some form of serious dysfunction, be it emotional, sexual, addiction, mental health or a combination thereof.
Randy Turner continues;
“But back to the “drunken sluts” who are their own worst enemies, who by choice expose themselves to the deadly risks of the unforgiving street. Without question, that is a prevailing attitude that has for so long muted the voices of the families of murdered and missing women — at least to the ears of the general public, police and legislators.”
With a sweeping brush Turner demonizes the Police, general public and our legislators by placing his own sensational interpretation of our feelings towards Aboriginal Women.
Having worked on dozens of murder cases involving Aboriginal Women & Men, the vast majority of which were solved, I find that Turners suggestion is not only offensive, but it is not true, it’s racist and it’s inflammatory.
Over eight (8) years of Homicide investigation, over two hundred (200) cases worked, and not once did the race of a victim play any part or influence the mindset of the investigators who worked with dogged determination to solve every case.
You don’t solve 90% of Homicides over a twelve (12) year period if you couldn’t care less about the “drunken sluts” who got murdered.
The entire suggestion is pure unadulterated bullshit.
Nahanni Fontaine, longtime activist and special advisor on the file of missing & murdered women for the Provincial Government weighs in; “If you have somebody that has all this rage, who better to take it out on than someone who’s considered dispensable or less-than?”
Herein lies one of the biggest problems regarding the issue of missing and murdered women. The people in positions of power lack a practical understanding of the problem.
It really isn’t so much that these women are “dispensable or less than.”
Its more about the fact that they are “available” and easily accessible targets.
These women are not being abducted from the safety of their homes.
The majority of them have substance abuse issues or are involved in the sex trade and as a result, are exposed to elevated risks inherent with frequenting crack houses or plying their trade on the dangerous streets of Winnipeg.
Many of these women are also exposed to significant risk from Aboriginal street gangs who ensure they have an endless supply of crack cocaine, but also ensure that crack debts are collected with ruthless brutality.
I’ve personally met hundreds of these women and can tell you that they don’t care about themselves, their safety or anything else. ”Rock” is their only friend and its all that they care about. They are trapped in a deadly 24/7 cycle that revolves around their need to turn tricks, get cash for crack, use crack and do it all again. They don’t stop for food or rest and they rarely bother to check in with family or those that care about them.
They are victims in the truest sense of the word, slave to their addictions and all the danger it brings, not in the state of mind required to make healthy choices, all in need of interventions, none of them ever wanted to end up this way.
Turner cites the 1995 case of two white men who beat and killed an Aboriginal prostitute just outside of Regina. Although originally charged with 1st degree murder the two men, one the son of a former cabinet minister, the other a sone of a university professor, were convicted of Manslaughter and received sentences of six and a half years in prison.
The spin; that the ruling had racial undertones and favoured the white defendants.
Mr Turner should read his own newspaper.
Specifically Crime Reporter Mike McIntyre’s story “Getting away with Murder – Plea bargaining down to manslaughter is often distasteful but a necessary evil to prevent killers from walking, frustrated justice officials say.”
You can find the story here http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/breakingnews/getting-away-with-murder-159286705.html
The truth is that the racist insinuations suggested in this part of the story are completely baseless.
As reported in Mr McIntyre’s story, plea bargains from 1st degree murder to manslaughter are the “rule” and not the exception.
I have participated in dozens of plea bargain conversations with Manitoba Crown Attorneys and not once did we ever discuss the color of a defendants or the victims skin when we tried to arrive at a consensus regarding the appropriate resolution of a murder case.
If Mr Turner did his research he would find out that a six and a half-year sentence for manslaughter is a mid range sentence.
The story highlights the pain and suffering of Brenda Osborne, an Aboriginal Women too familiar with the devastation caused by senseless killings. Her cousins Helen Betty Osborne and Felicia Solomon both tragically murdered. Her daughter Claudette vanished in July 2008.
“My mother told me a long time ago that we (aboriginal women) are nothing better than the dirt white people walk on,” Osborne said. “That hasn’t changed. If you’re at a certain place, they see you as easy pickings.”
I grew up in an extraordinarily violent household, son to a father who often inflicted random vicious beatings on his children. His use and abuse of alcohol contributed to the senseless violence.
Much like Brenda Osborne, my father also gave me messages that were capable of the destruction of ones self-esteem.
“You are a piece of shit, you’re a bum, you’ll never amount to anything” were all messages I constantly received from the time I was a young child.
I rejected those messages and respectfully suggest that Brenda Osborne could have done the same.
The message Brenda Osborne received from her mother was racist, unbalanced and categorically untrue.
Not all white people are racist and not all white people have the same degrading perception of Aboriginal women that her mother suggested. The idea that all white people subscribe to such a belief is biased and stereotypical.
Even though I experienced several racist incidents as a young boy, one of which included a confrontation with a white man who called my brothers and I “niggers” , I never once believed that all white people shared the same ignorant perspective and that the entire white race should be painted with the same ugly brush.
It’s sad that Brenda did not enjoy a more balanced perspective as a child as it has clearly influenced her perception of the world as an adult.
“Sally” a woman speaking under a pseudonym shares her story. A forty-three (43) year old drug addicted sex trade worker described as a connoisseur of the “pills, alcohol and crack.”
“A lot of us have disappeared, I have no clue what’s going on. These are my sisters who are missing, who are dead. It scares me, but I work because of my drug problem. I’m still at rock bottom. It’s a bad, bad life, to say the least.”
“Sally” is lying to us and to herself.
She knows exactly whats going on, as does virtually every other sex trade worker standing on those cold street corners. “Bad tricks” are a reality for sex trade workers. They know that they are exposing themselves to inordinate risk by continuing to chase their addictions. “Sally” knows it whether she wants to continue playing the role of the clueless addict or not.
If you didn’t catch it, “Sally” makes it clear that the fear of being murdered is not enough to conquer her addiction and keep her off those streets.
Herein lies one of the most significant contributing factors to the central issue. Drug addicted sex trade workers that fully know the dangers and are still prepared to sacrifice themselves to chase their next high.
The story enters into the realm of the serial killer.
Sean Lamb, adopted by a white family from an Ontario reserve as a toddler is exposed to sexual and physical abuse during his childhood. He started abusing alcohol by age nine (9) and used heroin at age sixteen (16).
Nahanni Fontaine met with Lamb at the Remand Center a few years ago during the time she worked as an advocate for the Southern Chiefs Organization. Fontaine quickly came to the conclusion that the Southern Chiefs Organization could not help Lamb.
I’m not really sure what the message was supposed to be in this section of the story. The fact that Turner felt it necessary to mention that Lamb was adopted by a “white” family appears to be an intentional attempt to keep the racist thread flowing in his story.
Are we to blame the white people for what Lamb did.
Maybe we should blame Nahanni Fontaine and the Southern Chiefs Organization for not helping Lamb when he reached out to them.
In my mind Shaun Lamb should take responsibility for the things that Shaun Lamb did. It doesn’t matter if his adopted family was Asian, Hispanic, Black or White.
Shaun Lamb made the choice to use crack and become an addict who killed people, and that’s on him.
The story and people interviewed in the story are critical of Aboriginal men and the Aboriginal Leadership.
Brenda Osborne is quoted as saying, “Write that we don’t hear from our leaders. Write that down. Come and sit with us and share our pain. They’re the ones who are in power. They’re supposed to be our voices. We’re not taken seriously. And we don’t want our leaders to be behind us. We want our leaders to be beside us or in front of us.”
Shannon Buck, program coordinator for the Red Road to Healing is quoted as saying, “No one wants to talk about the uncomfortable things. In our community, sexual abuse, violence and addiction are huge. Our leadership in a lot of ways is unhealthy. Part of it is that men don’t know how to help. They’ve lost their role as protectors and providers. They’ve lost a part of themselves.”
After highlighting the inadequacies of Aboriginal men and Aboriginal Leadership, Spillet promptly blamed these shortcomings on “colonialism”.
I’ve been to some of the rallies and saw dozens of Aboriginal men in attendance offering their support. Can Aboriginal men do more, of course they can, but as the story suggests, they may be caught between a rock and a hard place.
As Buck states, “There’s a lot of angry women who won’t let them get involved. They shut them out. They still view all men as predators. They’re not able to allow men to come beside them.”
Aboriginal men criticized for lack of leadership and assessed blame by Shannon Buck who expresses archaic, sexist ideals of the dominant male playing the role of the “protector and provider” for the powerless weaker sex.
I also heard from the Aboriginal Leadership. Their message primarily focused on calls for a National Enquiry.
Although I personally disagree with the need for a National Enquiry, I believe that Grand Chief Nepinak has the best interest of his people at heart.
He is quoted as saying, “I’m a leader who is committed to finding an answer. Are we truly living up to that responsibility? We have to awake the warrior spirit in our people. The men have to take that role once again.”
I don’t see how blaming Aboriginal Men and the Aboriginal Leadership advances the cause. This is just another example of the divisive nature of the article.
Spillet continues to ramp up the racist rhetoric as the story starts to wind down.
“The freaking army would be digging up every inch of that garbage dump to find a white child. We know it. We see it. It just tells us who we are.”
“Do you think if a bunch of kids from River Heights started killing themselves or each other that something wouldn’t be done?”
Turner writes “Spillet doesn’t wait for an answer. The question was rhetorical.”
In an unprecedented departure from a scientific approach from a Homicide Investigation, and with commendable cultural sensitivity, the Winnipeg Police Service launched a search for the remains of murder victim Tanya Nepinak at the Brady Land Fill site.
The decision criticized by former Deputy Chief Menno Zacharias in a story he wrote on his blog called “The Search for Tanya Nepinaks Body – An Exercise in “Relationship Building”: Gone Awry.”
Find the story here; http://mennozacharias.com/2012/10/20/the-search-for-tanya-nepinaks-body-an-exercise-in-relationship-building-gone-awry/
Many people speculate, myself included, that the Police may never even have attempted to conduct the search if Tanya Nepinak had been a caucasian women.
It was clearly a Political decision motivated by a desire to demonstrate extraordinary cultural sensitivity to Tanya’s family and the Aboriginal Community.
Spillets racist comments are not only completely ridiculous, they are also highly inflammatory, divisive and offensive.
She should really be ashamed that such garbage flows from her mouth.
The story morphs to Shawna Ferris, assistant professor in women and gender studies at the University of Manitoba.
“Who is attacking these women? It’s not just these lone, monster, serial guys,” said Ferris. “They get all the media attention. It’s males, mostly white, relatively educated and young.”
The exact demographic is difficult to determine, Ferris added, “Because there are a lot of people that don’t get caught. Often it isn’t any direct motive. It just happens: ‘She pissed me off so I hit her.’”
Consistent with the need to continue the racist tones of the article, Ferris lays the blame on white men, with the caveat that the exact demographic is difficult to determine.
It seems to me that Ferris is relatively clueless. Does she refer to any studies or statistics that could be shared with us. If she has these kind of stats, Turner should have included them in his story.
The one thing we do know is that the last serial killer to be arrested in Manitoba was Shaun Lamb, an aboriginal offender who is alleged to be responsible for the killing of three innocent Aboriginal women.
Ferris’ apparent understanding of the murders in question is clearly scant.
I doubt that she has met many substance addicted sex trade workers or has had much involvement in Homicide investigations. Nevertheless, she speculates regarding motive; “Often it isn’t any direct motive. It just happens: ‘She pissed me off so I hit her.”
A simplistic conclusion that I assume was based on speculation.
I have worked on a large number of Homicide cases and can tell you that there are many known motives and factors that contribute to these killings.
Known motives for men who commit these crimes are Sexual Assault, Sexual Addiction, Sexual Dysfunction, Anger & Control or Mental Health Issues.
Often times, men who frequent sex trade workers refuse to pay for services rendered, this scenario often creates extremely violent conflict.
I know from practical experience that a great number of sex trade workers carry edged weapons to defend themselves from bad dates. When it comes to physical conflict, these women can be disarmed with potentially deadly consequences.
Drug addicted sex trade workers can also be very dangerous individuals. Many of them have mental health issues that increase their potential to use violence against their customers. When these women are chasing their next high they often resort to drastic measures like Theft, Robbery or Homicide. I’ve personally witnessed all of these scenarios playing out in the Winnipeg crime scene.
The story ends with an inspiring message from Nahanni Fontaine;
“I’m always amazed by the resilience and strength of our people,” Fontaine concluded. “I am in awe of the mothers who continue to go to the vigils, continue to speak out. It’s the courage of our women and our girls that is the beautiful piece of this story. Not that we’re less-than, not that we’re savages. We’re not whores, we’re not prostitutes. Our bodies are not there to absorb every bit of violence. We’re there to shed the light.”
The truth is, Aboriginal women are involved in prostitution, so are white women, asian women, black women…..
It’s their involvement in the sex trade that places them in jeopardy.
It’s a central factor related to causation in the majority of these cases, yet no one wants to acknowledge that factor, not even someone who has a leadership role as a special advisor on the file of Missing & Murdered Women for the Provincial Government.
The unpleasant truth must be accepted.
The divisive, racist, blame game has to end.
THE END GAME:
Racist sensationalism has no place in legitimate journalism.
Mr Turners story is an inflammatory, inaccurate, unbalanced work that is sure to inflame racists attitudes on both side of the fence.
The transparent use of words or phrases for shock value such as “drunken sluts”, “dirty squaws”, “easy squaws” and “drunken squaws” should be seen for what it is.
If the goal in writing the story was to divide our community then I think it may be deemed a success.
Not exactly a piece of responsible journalism in my humble opinion.
I’m all for having a conversation, but lets keep it real.
Could it be that we are all facing an Aboriginal Apocalypse.
Could it be that all Aboriginal people are filled with the same blind racist attitudes and perceptions as the Aboriginal activists and Aboriginal “leaders” who are quoted in this story.
Could it be that the fall out from colonialism will eventually destroy our Aboriginal people.
False accusations of racism, hostility, division, blaming and a culture of victimization will not take us to the promise land.
Leadership, ownership, truth, inclusivity & forgiveness might.
I believe in our Aboriginal people.
I find it ironic that the majority of the activists and leaders who spewed racist rhetoric in Turners article enjoy Government funded employment that is largely financed by the “racist” white middle class taxpayers so loathed in the article.
Poor white men.