From email@example.com Sun Mar 12 12:28:14 2000
From: Lynne Moss-Sharman <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Growing allegations of racism against natives rock Saskatoon
By Michele Mandel, Toronto Sun, 20 February 2000
SASKATOON, Sask. -- Under an endless ink black sky, in the vast frigid emptiness on the outskirts of town, Darrell Night says he was dumped out of a police car and left to make his way back in -30 C, the cops' racist slurs echoing in the frozen air. "Get the f--- out of here, you f---ing Indian." Night lived to tell his harrowing tale. Two other native men allegedly dumped near the same lonely spot were not as fortunate. Their frozen bodies were found two weeks ago.
It sounds like something out of the old Deep South; the kind of racist brutality that one would expect of police in Georgia in the '50s. But this is Canada in the 21st century.g Two veteran Saskatoon police officers have been suspended with pay and the RCMP is investigating Night's complaint as well as any links to the frozen corpses of college student Lawrence Wegner and 25-year-old Rodney Naistus, both discovered within days of each other in the same isolated vicinity southwest of the city.
Since then, more than 100 aboriginal people have come forward with similar stories -- so many that the RCMP has set up a 1-800 number to hear their allegations of abuse. "Some are just like the Klu Klux Klan with badges," charges Perry Anderson, a native commissionaire who used to work as a jail guard at the Saskatoon Police station. "They'd call them 'dirty prairie niggers' and says `the only good Indian is a dead Indian.' "
Saskatoon Police Staff Sgt. Glenn Thomson insists there is no evidence that links the bodies to the police. "We have a very strong relationship with Saskatoon's native community. It was just knocked back a little bit, but we will get it back again." But two frozen bodies are now etched in the nation's psyche and cannot be so easily forgotten. The scandal has rocked the city and the country -- tearing at our smug assumption that we have come so far, that racism doesn't live here anymore.
Plumes of white smoke from the SaskPower plant hang suspended in the bright prairie blue sky. The hard snow crunches underfoot; your breath leaves clouds in the air. It's -20 C, a day much like the one Feb. 3: Victor Hargraves was in the trailer and his workmen were out fixing some rail cars when they spotted something suspicious in the middle of the stubble field. Hargraves climbed into his 4 x 4 truck and drove out to investigate. He found a sight he will never forget. "It was a body," the bearded foreman says softly. "He was face down and wearing just blue jeans, socks and a T-shirt. It was tragic. You could see that there was a struggle the last few minutes of his life, the snow was all padded down around him from where he must have been rolling around ..."
Dale Strongquill, 25, has been at the receiving end of racial slurs and the famous phone book treatment. "I've been called 'f---ing Indian', `savage,' `prairie nigger,' all that crap, pretty well every day, man," he says with resignation. And as for the phone book -- "They hold the phone book to your face and they punch you. That way it doesn't leave bruises. What can you do? Complain?"
Perry Anderson says he witnessed many phone book attacks while he was a guard at the police station 10 years ago. When he would offer to testify on behalf of his fellow natives, they invariably turned him down. They didn't think anyone would believe them. For that same reason, he never reported what he saw, choosing to quit instead. "I figured I was just one voice and you're going to be saying nothing for nothing."
On Jan. 29, hours after he was seen celebrating his prison release, Naistus's partially clothed body was discovered by a Saskatoon MLA on her Saturday morning run through an industrial area just south of the power station. "You could see this was a muscular, young aboriginal man in the prime of his life," Pat Lorje tells reporters. "It seemed like such a waste for this healthy, young man to die out there like that." At his home on the Onion Lake reserve, family members were shocked this week to learn that his death "by exposure" may actually be linked to the police "one way." "How do you deal with death?" an angry relative asks. "The only way this can be resolved is if we get the answers through this investigation." It was Darrell Night's courage in speaking out that is being credited with uncovering this scandal -- ironically to an officer who was so alarmed, he took his story to the chief.
At Building a Nation, an aboriginal storefront counselling service, volunteer Ross Nedelec is incredibly proud of his cousin. "He's been going through a rough time. First, he was charged with first-degree murder and all the charges were cleared and then this happened," says the 20-year-old, who mentions in passing that he was beaten by police with a billy club last year for being an observer at a bar brawl. "He was just very lucky that he's a big and strong man." The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Night says he was arrested outside a friend's apartment in the early morning hours of Jan. 28. Admittedly intoxicated, he thought he was being taken to the drunk tank at the station. Instead, they headed out of town towards the power station. Just metres away from the illuminated building, the cruiser suddenly stopped, he says, and he was dragged out, uncuffed and dumped in the snowy middle of nowhere, with just his jean jacket and summer shoes as protection against the sub-zero night.
MADE HIS WAY BACK
" 'Get the f--- out of here, you f---ing Indian,'" he says they swore at him before leaving him behind. "I'm going to freeze out here," Night yelled after them. "That's your f---ing problem," one of the officers allegedly yelled back. And their rear tail lights disappeared into the darkness. Night managed to make his way to the power plant, where a night watchman called him a cab. Some 36 hours later, Naistus' frozen corpse was found just north of the station. Five days later, rail workers found Wegner's frozen body in a nearby field. Neither man was wearing shoes or a jacket.
It was after hearing that another man had been found near the power plant that Night reported his story to police on Feb. 3. Chief Scott ordered an internal investigation that, after intense public pressure, was turned over this week to an RCMP task force. "He's a courageous one," says Night's lawyer, Don Worme. "Mr. Night stepped up to the plate and he made these disclosures. It is not an easy thing to do. Would we have known about the others if he had not? Sadly, I suspect not. Looking back, the news reports said 'no foul play suspected' and that may very well have been his headline as well." It hasn't snowed for days and the footsteps of investigators and reporters lie frozen in place under the distant shadow of the SaskPower plant. Wegner's body was long ago removed and buried at Saulteaux First Nation cemetery.
Victor Hargraves still sees him, though. Seared in his mind, he can still see a young man in short sleeves, his skin frozen, his body lifeless and alone in the vast canvas of snow. He shields his eyes against the harsh prairie sun, shakes his head for us all, and turns away. Read Michele Mandel every Sunday. Her e-mail address is email@example.com
Reprinted under the Fair Use http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.html doctrine of international copyright law.
Tsonkwadiyonrat (We are ONE Spirit)
Native News: http://www.tdi.net/ishgooda/natnews.htm
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