"I thought of him as an enemy..."

The following is taken from Native American Testimony, A Chronicle of Indian-White Relations from Prophecy to the Present, 1492-1992, edited by Peter Nabokov, Viking Penguin, 1991, paperback, 474 pages, ISBN 0-670-83704-0. It is a highly recommended book:

Teenager suicide is the most unambiguous sign of community disintegration and personal despair. In Alaska, Native American suicide is four times the national rate; in the past twenty years suicide attempts by American Indians between twenty and thirty years of age increased 200 to 300 percent over that of whites in that age range.

Sometimes government practices, such as Canada's Indian child welfare practices, exacerbated those trends. But pervasive loss of self-esteem, poverty, alcoholism, and alienation created a frightening future for many Indian youth in the 1980's.

The following testament of pain is from the handwritten diary of a seventeen-year-old Chipewyan Indian named Richard S Cardinal, which he titled "I Was a Victim of Child Neglect." The document was found after the teenager nailed a piece of wood between two trees and hanged himself on June 26, 1984. Richard tried to take his life twice before succeeding...

[Richard's typo's are recreated as best I could.]

I was born in Ft. Chipewyan that much I know for certain, because it's on my birth-certificate.

I have no memories or certain knowledge of what transpired over the next few years, I was once told by a Social Worker that my parents were alcoholic's and that all of us kids were removed for this reason. I was separated from the rest of my family and placed in a foster home some-were in fort MacMurry.

My earliest memories are from when I was living with a family in Wandering-River. I have little memory of this home but I do remember that I was playing with some wooden matches and I guess when I left one was still going and the outcome was desastrous, the shed in which I had been playing had caught on fire, which spread and caught onto the hay stack. When they had finally put out the fire and managed to save [three quarters] of the stack I was given the whipping of my life...I was also reunited with my brother at this home so I did not feel so alone any more. We were moved after about a year.

Our next home was in the same town just a few miles away. This home was good in one way but bad in alot of ways. It seemed that for every good happenings there were two bad ones...about three months later my sister Linda (who is the oldest of the years in our family) was moved into our foster home. Charlie and linda were always playing together and seeing as I was still pretty small I was always left-out so I began to spend alot of time alone...

Our next move was a few month's later, we were moved to live [deleted] we lived with an elderly couple my the name of [deleted]. I enjoyed this home for the first two days then everything went wrong when we had to go back to school. The first day I was sent to the office three time's in the same day for fighting...I began to get into alot of trouble for neglecting my chores and was hit several time's with a stick and sent to bed. I could hear Mr. & Mrs. [deleted] arguing late into the night, About them hitting me. In school it was worse than ever I was constantly in trouble with the principle for fighting and not doing my work in class...When fall returns it was back to school for us kids I can remember-trying to get us ready before the bus arrived but we were so excited that we were hopping around like grasshoppers on a hot summerday. I would be returning to grade two this year. I was not considered an outcast this year and got my first taste of puppy love with a girl named Heather. I was halfway through the school-year when a Social Worker came to our home and I was to be moved and asked me how soon I would be ready to move and I answered, 1 week, I should have answered never. When I would move alone Charlie and linda would stay.

I had 4 hours before I would leave my family and friends behind and since linda and charlie were at school, I went into the bedroom and dug out my old harmonica and went down to the barn and sat on the fence and began to lay to the cows. I didn't know how to play at all but I played real slow and sad like for the occasion, but before halfway through the song my lowerlip began to quiver and I knew I was going to cry and I was glad so I didn't even try to stop myself. I guess that [deleted] heard me and must have come down to comfort me, when she put her arm around me and I pulled away and ran up the road aways. I didn't want no one's love any more and I had been hurt to many times so I began to learn the art of blocking out all emotions and I shut out the rest of the world out and the door would open to no one.

The Social Worker arrived to take me away to my new home. On the way their he tryed to talk to me but I was'nt hearing or trying to hear. When we arrived the Social Worker wanted to talk to the parents alone so I remained in the car...I was taken into their house and [deleted] showed me where I would sleep. The room was in the basement of the house. When I walked into the room I could not believe my eye's. The floor was covered with water (about an inch and half) and there were boards on the floor to keep your feet from getting wet. The walls had been painted red but had long before began to peel off, the window which was no bigger than an atlas had a gape between the foundation and the bottom which let in the cold winter wind and the beds were no wider than two feet across and about a foot off the floor. there was a 40 watt light that was in the ceiling (which was not completely finished) and you had to pull a string to turn it on. It looked like something you would see in a horror movie! "You'll be sharing this room with another boy" he said and with that returned upstairs. The night was a night mare in it self, The wind constantly blew through the crack in between the window and the wall and it was like sleeping in a cool room I had a spider crawl across my face twice before I fanally killed the dumb thing and I was constantly cold. In the morning I was assigned chores to do and I would be fed after they were done. When I was finished I was returning to the house to eat and found a lunch bag in the doorway, this was my breakfast. I was not allowed to eat with the family in the house, and the same with lunch and supper. The next few days were like living in a jail, I was set boundaries in which to stay in and I was to come running "when I was called." I kept telling myself that this was all a bad dream and that I would wake up soon with charlie and linda and the rest of the family in our home back in Ft. Chipewyan, but in reality I knew that I would'nt wake and that this was real, and not just some bad dream. The first month's rolled by slowly and then bag! it was my birthday, I was now nine however it seemed that everybody could careless. I remaind "looked in my own little world and would not let anything in or out" I was enrolled into Westlock Elementary School, I was better hear I was away from the farm and the family that lived their.

Here I began to fall into bad company and got into alot of trouble. We were let out of school for two weeks for Christmas holadays. I fogure things would eased-up abit between The Family and I during this period however I was weerong Things got worse. I was beginning to feel rejected and unwanted. Christmas morning I was sent outside and not allowed back in till dinner and even then I had to eat in the basement, This was it I could'nt take anymore of this I had to leave, go somewhere were nobody would find me. I pack my belongings into my back-pack and I had stoled a bottle of rye so I packed that to the garage and rolled up the old tent and secured trhis onto the pack and I was almost ready.

I went back into the house and got a box of wooden matches and stuffed it into my pocket's as I was comeing back-up the stairs and notice for the first time the guns hung on the wall ther was box below the gun rack and I opned it up. "beautiful I told myself, the box had pagages of shells for the guns. Each pack contained 3 boxes of fifty shells. I took two packs and stuffed them into my jacket. When I had got the gun out of the house to the garage. I slipped on my pack picked up the gun and head away from the house. I had been gone 4 days before I was caught and brought back to the farm however I felt as though I had done darn good since I was only 9 years old.

I spent the rest of the winter here feeling lonly and very depressed, And I began to seriously think about suicide. The first time I attempted it I sused a rasor blade to cut my arms but it hurt so much I didn't try that again. When school started up once more I began to skip classes and the [deleted] were informed. When I returned to the farm that evening [deleted] was waiting for me and he began to yell and scream at me. I was'nt listening and did not care. finaly he blew his stack and hit me. It was the first time I was hit by him and I guess he exspeted me to start bawling but I didn't I just stood there and started blankly at him. My lip began to bleed quite badly. When I tasted the blood I spit it beside his shoe's and told him to 'GO TO HELL," and with that I walked away while I left him standing there looking rather stupid.

After school I would do my chores and sit in the barn and think and one day I was in there thinking, and it struck me I could kill myself myself now and no one would know until it was to late, and it jusy so happenes that the bail I was sitting on still had a bailer twine on it so I slipped it off and climbed up into the rafters. After I had secured the rope I climbed down and placed some straw underneath the rope I climed on and stood up determined to go through with it. I said a short Prayer for god to take care of my family. I placed the rope around my neck and kicked my lungs felt like they were melting right off my head. Finaly I blacked out and was engulfed in a blanket of black.

Unfortunately I woke up. I could see alot of people above me, all of a sudden thay all began to talk to me at the same time. I could not make out what they were saying all the words were echoing in my head and my eye's would not focus in on the people above me then I was swept back into a sea of blackness.

I was released from the hospital after about a week. I was returned to the [deleted] family my social worker was there. We sat and talked for about two hours about how things were going. I exsplained to him that I wanted to return to [deleted] and I wanted to be with Charlie and Linda, however he tryed to exsplaine to me how that was impossible for me to go back because

[The original of Richard's journal end here. But the copy of the original made by the police soon after Richard's death carries on for two more pages. These pages have since been lost.]

she was getting too old for so many young kids to take care of an eventually the [deleted] would get another boy my age and just before he left I was informed that I would be seeing a phychologist every three days, then he let.

On the first day I went to see this phycologist, we just sat there and talked about each other, generally just getting to know each other. He kept caling me "my friend" I did not consider him my friend I though of him as an enemy. He was trying to make me rember, I didn't want to, I just sat and started at him blankly...

I want to say to the people involved in my life, don't take this personal it's not your fault...

Love can be gentle as a lamb or
ferocise as a lion.
it is something to be welcomed yet it is
something to be afraid of.
it is good and bad. yet people live
fight, and die for this.
somehow people can cope with it I don'
now, I think
I would not be happy with it yet I am
depresed and sad without
it. love is very strong.

Richard S. Cardinal, Chipewyan

A Tsalagi speaks...

First Nations

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