VIEWPOINT – We need to do better for our youth

Another youth being buried in his home community - Image courtesy Joyce Hunter
Another youth being buried in his home community - Image courtesy Joyce Hunter
Another youth being buried in his home community - Image courtesy Joyce Hunter
Another youth being buried in his home community – Image courtesy Joyce Hunter

THUNDER BAY – VIEWPOINT – We need to do better for our youth. I have been distraught since I learned of Marlan’s passing. Was very affected by watching him fade to death after he was taken off life support. I watched his mother as she planned his funeral: the casket, the florist, the memory cards, the photos, all of the things that go with end of life planning…in what essentially was a strange city to her. And then of course there was the need to bring her baby, her youngest, home in a casket so she and his father, joined by the rest of the family could bury him. His father, meanwhile, was wrapped up with the police and coroner’s investigations.

When would they release his body back to us? How can we organize three charters from two cities from different regions of the province to meet on our reserve (and this during a holiday over a weekend) and ensure there would be enough time for the service, the internment and the community feast (reception for you city folk) to follow all on one day? (Like truckers, pilots can only be gone for so long in a day but in their case they often have to return to their point of origin). And of course they have their other children grieving and in pain. But how could mother and father do all these things? They were unable to sleep, the days were long with much time spent on what ifs and of comforting others, and of trying to come to terms with his sudden violent death each on their own.

They were exhausted. I know. I felt it too. I was part of so many of these conversations and I felt their stress. I too felt heavy, couldn’t sleep, was in a fog, and was hurting.

I have also been following the local newsfeed and watching how Marlan’s death has been positioned. Yes. I’ve seen the phrase ‘gang killings’ thrown around and another writer used the word ‘vagrants’ to describe community members who use the paths heading into the County Park area of the city from Red River Road. It is an arterial walkway for those who must travel on foot. And there is geared to income housing, at varying distances, on each end of that walk way.
I needed to know first hand. Was it true? Was he connected to this alleged gang? I called a friend of mine who, on the prevention side, regularly goes into geared to income neighbourhoods across this city as part of her work with at risk youth. She does this as part of an anti-gang recruitment initiative (side note: she also works with youth in youth detention centres and so has a very intricate and intimate connection with the poorest and most vulnerable youth from right across the region in addition to this city, and she’s been doing it all a long time). I asked her did you see the post about his being connected with gang activity? Do you know him? She told me he was a regular at her youth gatherings and that he was a thoughtful kind person, and scoffed at the idea of him being a gang member.
But still, there are community members who are affected by it, who were recruited and whose lives have been destroyed by being born Indigenous, or who are poor, and who live in areas where exploitative individuals will reach out to them, to take advantage of them by promising them some semblance of power, prestige and place. Even if he wasn’t a member, he was touched by this. And then looking out: the First Nation Family Caring Society has said Indigenous youth are more underfunded than their broader community counterparts and the resulting statistics support this.

I want you to learn a word: intersectionality.

Understand what it means for the oppressed. Don’t tell us we are all human or the same. Instead actually invest the time to truly understand how structural balances or imbalances in power were and are created and even maintained. When I teach people about this I always tell them, learn where you stand in the overall social fabric of society and take inventory: at the end, do you hold more or less power, more or less social capital (social capital is your standing in as well as your freedom to move about the community because of who you are. Whether you are a combination of one of the following: native, white, asian, black, LGBTQ, wheel chair bound, blind, hearing impaired, abled bodied, tattooed, thin, heavy, short, tall, male, female, beautiful or not, articulate, have piercings, have money or look like you don’t, can or can’t afford to live in a “safe” neighbourhood, are easily mobile or not, go to the best school, pay for leisure activities for yourself or your children, come from a family affected by violence or not). Each one of us has social capital.

Some of it is earned.

Some of it we are born into (and yes this can result in an easy good life or be hard depending on what we were born into). For some of us, we have to work very hard to “catch up” with others, and for others it’s an easy ride. And still for others, the reality they were born into means their life will always be hard.

But do you want to know something? I need you to look at legislations, policies, business or organizational operating procedures and missions and mandates too. How they might impact one group over another is something many people generally don’t think about…until it negatively affects them. My mom only speaks Cree, has hearing issues, is of an advanced age, and needs special supervision for her various medical issues. Now imagine an English nurse trying to explain to her how her timed antibiotic machine is calibrated, refilled, and should be set up at home for the duration of her treatment plan which is to be done out of hospital at the nearest city, and this after she had had high fever, blood poisioning and siezures from an absessed tooth. Ugh.

The further away you are from having a decent sized pool of social capital, the more even small changes hurt, and quickly. In fact, they can even be life threatening.

And the reason why I want you to think about all these things and become familiar with them and how they are all connected is because, we need to work together, and we can’t do that unless we all understand the full inventory of issues on an equal basis. I want you to learn all this because I think the world would be a different place and Marlan would still be alive, and Kory, and Josiah, and Tammy, and Curran, and Jordan, and Sandra…I could go on. I ask you, if you have more social capital, what are you doing with it?

Hugs to you Marlan. I don’t think it’s fair that insinuations have been made about you. I’m sorry for that. I prefer to wait, to find out the circumstances that led to your death. These insinuations before the facts have come out have hurt your parents, your family and your community. I know because we talked about it all day. Safe journey to the other side. ❤️

Check out this video on intersectionality on YouTube:

Joyce Hunter

Editor’s Note: If you would like to help the family and support them in their time of grief… Support Marlin’s Family.

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