Random Thoughts…and otherwise

BC’s MCFD Needs to Save This One Life

Sep
23

Front and center in the news right now is the decision by BC’s Ministry of Children and Family Development to remove a three-year old from the Metis foster family she’s been raised in since she was two days old, and their future plan to send her to an adoptive, non-Metis, home in Ontario where she will live with two older siblings she’s never met.

With this plan—revised again today—which has reportedly been in the works for quite some time, held back by a series of court contests by the foster family, all supported by the child’s biological parents and the BC Metis Federation, the family was forced to surrender the child to the MCFD on Sunday to prepare her for ‘transition.’

Of an update e-mail sent this week to this foster family by the Ministry, an ‘itinerary of transition,’ the mother said she can barely contain her anger:

“You move a child from a secure attachment when they’re three years old and they are set up for lifelong trauma and attachment difficulties. So for them to just be glossing this over like it’s a big party and we’re all going to be happy about it, we can’t accept that. Because we know it’s not going to be good for her.”

And that is the truth. And this apathy toward the well-being of children in care by a Ministry, a guardian, whose ‘primary focus is to support vulnerable children and their families using a client-centered approach…to achieve meaningful outcomes,’ is systemic, ineffective and irreparably damaging.

This child is loved, safe, cared for and desperately wanted. She has what so many in care, tragically lack: Leave her alone.

BC Metis Federation president Keith Henry likens this situation to the 60s Scoop, and, perhaps for slightly different reasons, I agree.

While the majority of focus in this case has been the child’s Metis culture and the fact that she is to be adopted by a non-Metis family, with respect, I find deep concern with another fact that relates to every child of every culture: primarily, ‘lifelong trauma and attachment difficulties’ and the severance of connection exercised upon children in the care of MCFD.

For less than a moment of time, I worked in the MCFD system.

Nearly three years ago I was hired by an agency, contracted by MCFD, to coordinate a group home for at risk youth. I lasted three months and chose to resign at the end of my probation period—an act done to save my soul, which still feels a selfish and cowardly way out today.

And it was. My soul wasn’t saved; in fact, it will never be the same. Still, I justify having left by telling myself I could not, with good conscience, be a part of a system which I often imagined to be far more negligent than the place most of these youth, children really, were seized or surrendered from.

Hope did not live there, did not exist; only chaos and anger and hatred, along with great despair and intense suffering.

All this time later, this is the image that haunts me: It’s 6:30 AM and a boy lays cuddled up on a black leather sofa, wrapped in a colourful granny square afghan, watching a movie. He is watching me just as closely, as I sit, eyes forward, restraining myself, on a matching loveseat beside him.

Only minutes before, I arrived at work three hours early, because as is the case there is a continuous shortage of staff and qualified applicants for the underpaid position of Youth Care Worker. As the coordinator, it was my role to step in and fill the many gaps.

Kevin, I’ll call him, has just returned from being AWOL overnight at a crack house he’s been frequenting for the past few weeks. He is under the influence of something, likely meth, is far from tired and asks me to watch a movie with him.

He’s just turned 14 and is small for his age, a tiny, child-like figure curled up with his blankie.

I am restrained because I am a mother, simply a human, and all I want to do is scoop up this child and lay him beside me and cradle his head in my lap. I want to stroke his hair and rub his back and tell him it’s OK, that everything will be fine, that he is much better than this road he’s been drawn down, that he is important, so smart and loved. I want him to believe there is hope.

And I am consumed with wonder as to when this child was last hugged by an adult who cared. Genuinely cared. A hug, so simple. Touched kindly, with honest love, by another human being. This and what damage the absence of this touch, of a simple human connection has done to this child; the effect it will have moving forward.

And it’s this thought, this vision, that haunts me today.

In the system of MCFD, he is lost. He is housed in this group home, like Rubbermaid tubs of crap are housed in my garage—placed on a shelf, neglected and forgotten.

In this group home, where he was “temporarily” placed until his social worker had time to find a “resource more age-appropriate,” he is somewhere, and because he is somewhere he is simply a number on his overburdened social worker’s, MCFD’s, list of stats.

About a year earlier, at 13, his mother dropped him off at a youth shelter, advising an intake worker that she couldn’t “take” him anymore. He was becoming increasingly angry and violent, had destroyed the inside of her home—holes punched in walls, doors, furniture thrown and broken. He was increasingly verbally abusive and she had to think about his younger brother, whose father she and he would be joining in a neighbouring province.

Kevin hates this man. In him he sees a drug abuser who is violent with his mother, and, while she has chosen this man and his brother over him, Kevin is instinctively protective towards her.

From the group home, he phones his mom relentlessly, uncountable times during the day. She rarely answers: Kevin no longer belongs in her life.

But everybody needs to belong somewhere—hence, the crack house. And because Kevin’s life in now guarded by a system that allows everything to be his choice—attending school, refusing counseling, refusing medication, abusing caregivers, neglecting house rules, hygiene, curfews, breaking the law—without immediate consequences, the pathway to learning life skills, the people like his revolving cast of Youth Care Workers, contractors who run ‘resources,’ overburdened social workers and Ministry staff, and myself, are rendered helpless, feeling as worthless and ineffectual in his life as the mop water we pour down the toilet.

“What can you do?” A phrase uttered with resignation, endlessly throughout everyday.

“What can you do?”

What you can do? Pray. And scream and yell and demand change. Make it right. Be there. Believe in someone, like Kevin, who has never been lent the opportunity or the tools to believe in himself.

And stand behind good people like a foster family on Vancouver Island who are far from cowards, and love so deeply that they’re willing to sacrifice their souls so a helpless three-year-old girl survives this moment and enjoys a future void of trauma, a bright future like her attachment to them will in turn lend her.

This child is loved, safe, cared for and desperately wanted. She has what so many in care, tragically lack: Leave her alone. Save this one life.

RELATED: What If: Is it Madness or Wisdom

Home Sweet Home in ‘The Hood’

Sep
17

victoria-street

When Taylor Swift allowed: “If you’re lucky enough to be different, don’t change,” I should have listened—it may have prevented this…

For the last few weeks, I’ve had an overwhelming sense of longing that seems to have pounced upon me rather suddenly and isn’t going away. It’s become the background of my everyday, my all day. At once, it feels ridiculous and not so, and I’m not quite sure what to do to make it right.

Or, if I want it to be.

It’s our old house: A rough and tumble, rundown affair in the ‘hood’, and, like me, imperfect in every single way. And, oh, how I miss it.

Since I graduated high school in 1983, I’ve lived in 27 different homes—the longest 4 years, the shortest, months—in 13 different communities, in 3 different provinces.

While I have missed a memory, a time in my life, perhaps a town or a view or a neighbour or an ocean, I’ve never really missed a house, which in reality is a large inanimate construct used to shelter and store stuff. It’s the living, breathing memories, the life-force that make a house, a place, a home.

When I met my husband, I was living in House #24, and shortly after moved into #25, with him. We’d both ridden in other rodeos and vowed to each other that we would never delve into home ownership, again: We’d remain care, and maintenance, free, uncommitted renters whose only roots would be the tendrils we extended to explore our wanderlust.

And then the door of the tiny coat closet in our tiny apartment refused to close and we thought perhaps we should rent something just a little bit bigger, which ultimately led us to our rundown home in ‘the hood.’

It was a disaster we overlooked in the euphoria of our next adventure: Love is blind.

We found it listed on Kijiji three minutes after the closet door burst and one of us said, “Maybe we should?” It was the cheapest non-apartment listed, a duplex in the VLA, ‘the hood’ of our city. “Let’s do it!” one of us said, the other agreed, and we made an appointment to view (always a bad idea), signed a lease on the spot and eagerly anticipated our move-in date.

Our standard joke for anyone who questioned our decision was: “We’re not getting cable. We’ll put two chairs by the front window and watch all the action go down.” At the very least, the forced giggles broke the uncomfortable silence.

Pictures hid holes on the walls. Medical equipment left in the basement—wheelchairs, commodes, a prosthetic left leg—were given to those in need of. Colourful curtains drew attention from time worn walls. A new gate sent a sign that there were new inhabitants, and a “They don’t live here anymore—spread the news,” to the first few prior customers who came looking for the previous owners (apparently, dealers) solved the problem of frequent knocks on the door.

And then once our boxes were unpacked and we had time to sit and watch out the window, something unexpected happened: Rather than frame the reputed dark-side of humanity, that ‘the hood,’ this sub-section of our city was widely known for, cast in our sights were clips of what became a beautiful living-portrait of life, a community, starring a vibrant cast of colourful souls we came to depend on.

They were our neighbours, coming and going, shoveling each others snow, friendly waves, genuine looks of concern, laughter from jokes shared. Children walking to school, hand-in-hand, trusting a fatherly crossing-guard celebrating 17 years on the job. The grace of the man in the park across the street practicing Tai Chi, winter, summer, spring and fall. A mother and daughter picking up garbage. Community barbeques, gardens.  A steady line of trick-or-treaters, families costumed together rag-a-tag-style, pride gluing them together.

Strollers and pedal bikes and skateboards and grocery carts. Buses, cars, taxis. Walkers and joggers and skiers and piggy backers. Laughers and criers and talkers and yellers and singers and ear bud-wearing listeners.

All sounds and sights of a community. A vibrant community. A welcoming community bustling with life. Of names and people and stories we grew to know and love.

And, then, the closet burst open, again.

“Maybe we should buy a house?” “We’ll look.” “It’s beautiful. I love it!” “Are you sure?” “Yes! You?” “Uh-huh.” “It only makes sense.” “Let’s do it!” Done.

So, here we are in our lovely big house, that feels a world away from ‘the hood.’ It’s neat and tidy with beautiful counter tops and closets, heaps of closets, that will never, ever burst. Pot lights and hardwood and stainless steel and a plethora of windows letting in endless light. No holes in the wall, no customers knocking on the door. No one really. No need to put up our own gate as the gate at the entrance to our new community keeps all of life out.

And the chair? There is no chair by the window as it seems the metaphorical projector is broken; perhaps becoming as bored as we are filming only an occasional car going in and out of a garage. A lonely job, lonely film. End of project.

Pins drop: Sounds echo.

Here, we’ve turned to life out of the back of our house, where the plants in the designer gardens weep at the weeds that encroach, and to their tree friends in the strip of forest on the other side of the 8-foot high fence, of their slow demise and the brown thumbed and neglectfully sad woman who has replaced their old mucky tender.

There are birds and butterflies and foxes and a bear, neighbourhood cats and the wind that sometimes carries the sound of a distant siren or traffic or, sometimes, the delicious laughter of children from far up the hill.

It’s what we asked for, thought we wanted, where most would find comfort, contentment, pride.

Yet, watching a squirrel leap from tree to tree, something inside of me pines for the shabby yet constant comfort that was the activity, the mosaic of beautiful people, the cacophony, our old life that was ‘the hood.’

There I belonged, found contentment, pride. And for that, for now, at least, I would gladly trade all of my coats and forfeit these closets. You see, I’ve learned that meals created on paint-peeled counter tops taste just as delicious as those made on granite. Perhaps, more so. Or, perhaps it’s this, they were more filling, sustaining, for my soul.

Like the people, those lovely, genuine, unedited people, who get what I get, who know what I know: Home is where your heart is, and mine remains in a beautiful community, in a home, sweet home, in the hood.

So, I am different, Taylor, in the richest of ways. And, from this moment forward, (more, after the moment I move back) I promise, I will never, ever again, never, ever try to change.

Of Jann Arden, Racism and Sensibilities Gone Mad

Sep
07

On September 2—last Friday—CBC ran a story (perpetuation?) about a woman, Julie Daum of Stellaquo, BC, who proclaims to have been “one of Jann Arden’s biggest fans,” but is now accusing the singer of being racist.

The impetus for this accusation was a picture Ms. Arden posted of her own mother on social media…

arden-mom…now captioned “My Inuit family,” but originally captioned “My Eskimo family.”

(A quick search of Ms. Arden’s Facebook page revealed that she often posts photographs her 80 year-old mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease and lives with Ms. Arden, when they go for walks, often commenting on her style choices.)

Ms. Daum is so offended by this racial slur that she has vowed to pack up her entire collection of Arden’s CDs and ship them back to her. She is done.

“To be really clear, it is racist to not respect how we are even identifying ourselves,” she is quoted as saying.

The article goes on to say, “…last year, the head of Canada’s national Inuit organization said the term Eskimo was derogatory, offensive and unacceptable, and symbolizes colonial policies.”

And the hubbabaloo of “Eskimo family” has caused a shit-storm of controversy from coast-to-coast-to-coast, in both the media and social media, alike.

By the time I finished reading this article, I had a massive headache and thought: Jesus, when will it end?

But, then, I thought of this…

mom-and-hilda-ellis…my mother, who for years joyfully regaled me with stories of her “Eskimo babies,” the children she lovingly cared for when she was posted to Churchill, Manitoba, in 1963, as a practical nurse in the army. In fact, I have an album of her photos—this one is captioned, “Hilda Ellis—My Pet,” her favourite.

She was only in Churchill for a little more than a year, but the children there left a footprint that lasted as long as my mother’s heart. She loved them and cared for them and, with great reverence, she called them Eskimos.

Sadly, with the Jann Arden incident and the Tribe Called Red incident from the week before, I think, respectfully, we’ve all lost the war.

And my rose coloured glasses are getting clouded. And all that comes to mind is the old adage: You’ve cut off your nose to spite your face.

Enough. Already. People like me, who really, really care, are getting tired, and confused. Very confused.

There is RACISM (the vile vomitus spewed after the Colton Boushie murder) and then there is confused and innocent ignorance from the kind and respectful and embracism crowd who simply can’t keep up and don’t receive the memos of where we are now.

Was Jann Arden intentionally throwing out a disrespectful racist barb by referring to her mother as an Eskimo? I think not. Were the fans of A Tribe Called Red who showed up at their concert in Halifax wearing war paint intentionally throwing out a disrespectful racist barb? I think not. Did my mother ever intend any disrespect by calling her young charges Eskimo babies? I know not.

Try as we may, it feels like we’re living in a very damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t climate right now, and I just can’t see how our country can possibly make any progress, reconciliation, in this state of hypersensitivity and vigilante political correctness gone mad.

Where I live—there are Indian Bands, First Nations, Aboriginal organizations, Native organizations, and today I read of an Indian Cultural Center in another province changing its name to Indigenous Cultural Centre, ‘a more appropriate self-conception.’ Which is great. Wonderful. But you see, like Ms Arden, I imagine, I am often lost in what is appropriate, today, this minute.

My husband is an Indian. (I can say that—he considers Indian as his ‘appropriate self-conception.’) I am ‘white.’ Sometimes I fry bannock. I wear a silver ring carved with a bear symbol fashioned by a west-coast artist. I wear moccasins. We live on Indian-time and enjoy Indian-humour. In the winter, when I wear my poofy down coat with its faux-fur hood trimming he calls me ‘Nanook of the North.’ We are respectful of each other’s cultures, of ourselves and of others. We accept and embrace our differences.

Last fall I attended an event I was under the impression was about writing: A Creative Writing Panel at UNBC’s Weaving Words Celebration. I excitedly went to drink up an atmosphere of creativity and writing camaraderie, with the hope of learning a few things along the way. The panel was impressive: a collective of vast knowledge and accomplishments, gifted wordsmiths who shared important stories through their work.

Unfortunately, the event was poorly attended with maybe ten participants in total, maybe three, including myself, not associated with the Celebration itself. It started out about writing—introductions, process, advice, experiences—but midway through took a surprising turn: The focus became ‘white tourism,’ and how exhausting and disrespectful it was to have ‘white’ people attempting to suck up knowledge of cultural traditions. And as the only blue-eyed blond, perhaps the only ‘white person’ in the room, I left disappointed and very perplexed, like I am now.

How is it that we—all of us—are to have a cultural understanding, acknowledgement and acceptance of each other if we’re not willing to share, to kindly educate each other? To teach what is most important and distinguishing about who we are, our ‘self-conception,’ to nurture embracement? To eracism?

How do we do all of this if we are not willing to be more inclusive—it must work both ways—and accept that sometimes others make mistakes?

There is one organization in particular that I can think of that is doing it right: The Prince George Native Friendship Centre.

Their Vision Statement is this:  “The Prince George Native Friendship Centre is a non-profit, non-sectarian organization dedicated to servicing the needs of Aboriginal people residing in the urban area and improving the quality of life in the community as a whole. Fundamental to this is the recognizing the inherent worth of all peoples regardless of race, creed, sexual orientation, or culture and to promote this view in the community at large”

And they live by it. I’ve seen it, been a part of it. All you have to do is show up—Native, white, Chinese, South Asian, Catholic, Muslim, Jehovah Witness, straight, gay, transgender, rich, poor, purple, green, orange—and you are welcome to learn, to participate, to be. Accepted. Innocent ignorance and all.

It’s a template, and example, of what our world could be, what the majority of our country is longing for—simply that the world can and will be as one.

But to accomplish this, the madness must end. We’re all losing this war, and our sensitivities and correctness are only causing a greater divide. We need to be allies, and hone them in. See outside of ourselves, reach out instead of holding on so tight.

My guess is that “funny…fiercely honest, and sassy” Jann Arden and “music lover” Julie Daum could have once upon a time been great friends, allies. My belief is that with a little more and less sensitivity this story could have been a tool that perpetuated understanding, instead of becoming a shit-storm that perpetuated a greater divide.

Medusa: Their Labour and Loss For Our Freedom

Sep
06

 

poppyAs I write, dusk is closing in on the end of this Labour Day weekend. My neighbours have returned from what will likely be their last camping trip of the year; in my community people are making their way home from a downtown celebration of labour sponsored by 16 different unions and professional associations; and some children have taken advantage of a break in the rain and are outside my window riding their bikes, enjoying the last hours of their summer vacation before tomorrow’s start of a new school year.

It’s been a wonderful weekend in which I exercised the freedoms I’ve grown accustomed to: I was out and about, enjoyed family, ventured into the great outdoors and wandered about in nature. Equally, however, I was lost in thought of the irony of what this weekend meant, of how I owed it all to the labours of others who were seemingly forgotten in its splendour.

You see, in the back of my mind since Friday—the start of this long weekend’s freedom-fest for most—has been the fact that this time (September 2—17) also marks the 10th Anniversary of Operation Medusa—a Canadian led offensive within the War in Afghanistan that claimed 28 NATO soldiers, including 12 of our own.

I’m somewhat—actually, quite—disappointed that as I madly Google, amongst stories of a deadly helicopter crash in New Brunswick, Peter Mansbridge’s impending retirement, Vancouver’s housing market ‘crash,’ Stanford rapist Brock Turner’s release from prison after only three months served and the growing movement of support behind Colin Kaepernick’s decision not stand during the national anthem, I find one news story recognizing this anniversary: Canadian soldier writes song for 10th anniversary of Operation Medusa. (CTV)

One. A single media story marking this Canadian initiative in a war—our most recent— that eventually claimed the lives of 158 Canadian soldiers, injured upwards of 1,800 and left 14,375, likely many more, with the effects of PTSD.

It’s boggling my already boggled mind. While in early-November we gratefully donate to the Royal Canadian Legion, don a poppy and on Remembrance Day pledge “Lest We Forget,” it seems we do.

Maybe I’m being over-sensitive. Maybe I’m not.

You see PTSD is ‘my primal scream’ and its effects have deeply impacted my family. As they go about their daily lives, taking for granted their privilege to do so, I want every single person in this country to understand: the sacrifice that our military members who volunteer to serve this country make, out of both love and a selfless want to protect our freedoms; the lifelong devastation that is the families of our lost soldiers; the how and the why of our soldiers’ paths to PTSD; the impact it makes on not only their lives, but on those of their family, friends and community; the need for education that will provide the gateway for acceptance and the comfort to come forward; and the bright light that can be the future for any of its victims, hence survivors. (PTSD: A Family’s Story)

While my sensitivity may be in question, this waning—perhaps, apathetic—coverage is not a surprise.

The Federal Framework on PTSD Act

A week ago, my local newpaper, the Prince George Citizen, printed a front page story about a local RCMP officer’s journey with PTSD, and how after years of inner turmoil he has reconnected with his culture and found a peace and purpose from building a sweat lodge in his backyard which he is now sharing with fellow first responders who suffer the disorder, as well.

In response, I wrote a Letter to the Editor and was pleased to see it published on September 1. However, only the first half of the letter was printed—presumably due to lack of space—and an error in publishing gave authorship of the letter not to me, but the MP I referred to in the missing half. And I was rather disappointed that this cut and error was made, seemingly to accommodate letters about speeders and the credit Stephen Harper once deserved.

What I’d really hoped for with my effort was to direct readers to lend their support to a private member’s bill—Bill C-211, The Federal Framework on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Act—that Todd Doherty, Cariboo—Prince George MP, had introduced into parliament this past January.

The passing of Bill C-211 will “recognize the symptoms and provide timely diagnosis and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Attending The Attendant

Last week, I attended the reading of a play—The Attendant—at Artspace, here in Prince George.

I’d heard of it on CBC Radio the day before and spent the time between then and the reading, like I do, vacillating between going and not, going and not, going and not.

The play, about PTSD, was written by Prince George playwright, writer, artist and counsellor, Rob Ziegler, and the cause of my vacillation was this: Will the story-line of this play provide a much needed educational element in regards to PTSD? Will it give a clear picture of both the damage and the hope?

My cynicism was that he wouldn’t nail it and if he didn’t do that, I didn’t want to take part. It needed to bang on, or I’d be busted. Again.

Hours before start time, I told my brother, a veteran who lives his best life despite the effects of PTSD, about it, and his reply cemented my plans:

“Tell them,” he said, “that your brother has people reaching out to him every single day. I’ve been on the phone more or less all day with a vet. Poor bugger is having a hell of a time. And also tell them that PTSD is not a death sentence!!”

I was going. And I’m glad I did.

Set in an automotive shop in Cache Creek—Milt’s Repairs—an eccentric older veteran named Milt provides enlightenment and ‘repairs’ to two younger veterans, Capt. Harold Wales and Sgt. Brando Milton, both haunted by demons and at crossroads in their lives.

In my opinion, Ziegler did an outstanding job in using a medium that is considered to be entertainment, to educate. And I am grateful for his efforts to spread a message of both understanding and hope. (I look very forward to the production of this work.)

And that message—understanding and hope—is the point of this rambling: In our world of immediacy and self-gratification, ego, we have forgotten the sacrifices of others—our veterans— who have lent us great freedom, and that what appears to be a fading public interest in their efforts, their loss, their stories, their path, is wrong.

For sufferers of PTSD, a disorder that does not discriminate or limit itself to capturing the spirit of soldiers, but also effects first responders and victims of a wide scope of traumas, acknowledging and remembering its path–the wars and battles fought, sacrifices made–creates a greater understanding amongst all of us.

And understanding is what creates and nurtures hope—a place of compassion and healing, genuine respect, which is the least we owe those who have laboured and risked their lives for our freedoms.

Lest we forget. Ever.

Please contact Todd Doherty’s office to support Bill C-211:

Todd Doherty, MP Cariboo—Prince George
1520 3rd Avenue
Prince George, BC
V2L 3G4
250-564-7771
Todd.Doherty.C1@parl.gc.ca

Canada in Afghanistan – Fallen Canadian Armed Forces Members

Operation Medusa: The Battle For Panjwai