Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Don't try to kill someone in my yard

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At 5 a.m. on Saturday, May 15, I was awoken by nine youth fighting in my yard. Six youth chased three others half a mile and the fight ended up in my yard. I went out and broke them up. I was armed with a shotgun.

Three parents came to my house and threatened me, asking "How dare you take the law into your own hands." Luckily for me, my actions are all caught on video security surveillance.

Colleen Simard asks in the Free Press May 22, "Why the need for a shotgun?"

In 1997, I wrote a book called Genocide in Canada. It documented more than 100 violent and preventable deaths in Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation from 1967 to 1993. A friend and a cousin were two of those "statistics." In August 1973, my friend and neighbour Lloyd Hayden, 20, was stabbed to death. The teenagers who killed him also killed Garry Nelson, 19, who was like my younger brother. Stabbed in that same fight, Garry tried to get away. He ran for a mile until they caught up. Standing in the river, he begged for his life, offered his ring but they jumped in and drowned him. Three days later, his body was found floating in the Red River.

Year after year, at every funeral, I ask myself the same question: "Why doesn't someone do something?"

Sheldon Atkinson died last year. Stabbed, beaten and on the floor, they cut his throat. No one intervened, everyone was too scared.

One of the 16-year-olds fighting in my yard that Saturday morning is a brother of the young woman now in jail for Sheldon's murder. That morning, their mother confronted me and told me: "You are no leader. I am going to call the media."

Twenty-six years ago, we didn't deal with John James Jr., who at the time was alleged to have raped a young child that he was babysitting. We were intimidated. It was easier to let the police and courts deal with the problem.

On Sept. 13, 1985, three-year-old Ruby Adriaenssen was abducted, sexually assaulted and brutally killed, her semi-nude body left in a Winnipeg garage. John James Jr. had three trials and five years later was convicted of manslaughter, not first-degree murder, because he was a youth.

Our system failed not only Ruby Adriaenssen, it also failed John James Jr.

I am 56 years old and no longer idealistic.

One of my daughters now lives in my home. When she had her own home, she was attacked by two women as she was walking on the road. Fighting for 15 minutes, they finally got her down. She was being choked to death when a man intervened and pulled them off. The young woman who was choking my daughter is the same one in jail awaiting trial for the killing of Atkinson. She pled guilty to simple assault on my daughter and received a 30-day jail sentence. The other one involved is still in Roseau River awaiting trial on a long list of violent crimes.

Prior to 1945, we never had a murder in our community. We policed ourselves. The only real solution to the violence in our communities that I see is for First Nations to push the white man out. Get rid of "white" jurisdiction in our communities, licence and arm our own patrols. Sadly, we are not yet ready for that, we have to attend more funerals before we push the white man out.

None of those youth fighting in my yard is going to thank me for stopping them. They had golf clubs and other weapons. My son was not involved in that fight, he was attacked later by two of the ones I had chased off. The police that everyone says I should have called were busy being assaulted themselves in another violent party on the rez.

Given the current level of violence, it is predictable that there will be at least one violent death in Roseau River this summer, maybe more.

As chief, I can't save everyone, but as a parent I can assure my home is safe. Alcohol is not allowed. Simple solution: If you don't want to see the chief with a shotgun, don't be drunk and trying to kill someone in my yard at 5 a.m.


Terrance Nelson is chief of the Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 26, 2010 A12

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