Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hope from the ashes of Phoenix

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These are dark days.

With the ongoing trial for the murder of Phoenix Sinclair, the details uncovered in the courtroom -- and in the news -- are getting more and more grisly. Of course, it's important for the story to be told, but what effect will it have?

It's hoped after several weeks of testimony that the truth about the killing and illicit burial of this little girl near a garbage dump on the Fisher River First Nation will be uncovered.

The circumstances are spilling out like pools of yarn, tangled and gnarled over time. Testimony given says little Phoenix was abused worse than an animal before her death. The testimony of the two accused will differ over the course of the trial, no doubt.

Charged with first-degree murder are Sinclair's mom, Samantha Kematch, and her common-law husband, Karl McKay. Sinclair grew up in and out of foster care, but was released by Child and Family Services to her birth mom prior to her death in 2005.

It was almost a year before anyone noticed the little girl's absence, and it was the words of a youth -- McKay's teenaged son -- that broke the silence. Without him, Sinclair may have still been forgotten.

Provincial CFS was taken to task for Sinclair's "falling through the cracks" and began a review of its practices. At first, an aboriginal agency was blamed for the mistake in judgment.

The aboriginal community has been affected deeply by Sinclair's' death.

Some of us have a bad history with CFS. We don't trust a system that took us, or our parents, away from our families and communities. So it takes a long time to rebuild that faith in CFS. The death of Phoenix Sinclair becomes another reason not to trust the system.

It's also a reason for racists to hate aboriginal people in general. Some people think people like Kematch and McKay are the norm of aboriginal parents -- poor, uneducated, and abusive. This stereotype is far from true.

And there are lots of angry opinions out there.

Online petitions calling for maximum jail terms and for the return of the death penalty are just a few of the reactions I'm seeing and hearing in the aboriginal community. If the accused think murder charges hanging over their heads are tough, it's nothing compared to what others would do to them if given the chance.

Is Kematch a victim too, as her lawyer is beginning to portray her? According to testimony so far, the boy who broke the case says she was just as abusive as McKay. Hopefully he's getting counselling to deal with this horrible experience.

And as the case continues, the biggest effect is not yet known.

The effect of Sinclair's death on the CFS system will hopefully be a lasting one, not measured in glossy reports, statistics or press releases, but in the everyday lives of children under care of the system. Time will tell.

It's hoped no child will ever again be forgotten or allowed to suffer the same fate as a little girl brutalized and then silenced so young.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 15, 2008 A17

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