December 4, 2004

Who Failed Delores Bird?

Edmonton Sun:

SASKATOON -- Police were investigating the death of an 11- year-old girl who roamed the streets last weekend looking for a place to sleep. Delores Bird was found dead Saturday night in an apartment suite in a sordid area of Saskatoon's west side.

Her uncle, Ralph Bird, who lives in the suite next to where the girl's body was found, said she died after a night of drinking and taking pills.

"Why didn't she come here first? I wouldn't have let her go. I would have sat her down and told her, 'Don't drink anymore,' " he said, squeezing his eyes to hold back tears.

The girl's mother was reportedly away for the weekend.

All week the media punditry, social activists, and local politicians have been churning out meaningless pap, debating this tragedy in a soul-searching exercise of 'how we failed Delores Bird'. Soon, I expect, someone will announce an inquiry. There will be experts and witnesses, scholars penning profoundly meaningless papers, and community activists demanding funds for more Programs Of Enablement.
"We all must take responsibility for these children ... can't force children into rehab, they must come to it on their own ... listen to the children ... ask them how we can help ... teach better parenting skills... more support for poor families ... a failure of all society".

Bullshit. These enlightened attitudes towards "families in poverty" of the past three decades have failed. Welfare and treaty based payments have turned childbearing into a cottage industry. Youth crime has not abated - it has worsened, in both scope and severity. In addition to unabated rates of property crime, we have Indian gangs running the streets of Saskatoon. They have graduated from stealing cars and vandalism to home invasions, stabbings, sawed off shotguns. Your grand social schemes are killing people and failing children.

The question of how we failed Delores Bird can be answered in the question no one has asked.

When are criminal charges going to be laid against the mother?

That's who failed Delores Bird. If the person responsible for the care of this little girl isn't guilty of criminal neglect, I don't know who is.

Our social systems and institutions hold a deeply racist attitude towards First Nations families, and it is most strongly expressed in lowered expectations, lesser demands for parental responsibility. When families permit or perpetrate abuse and neglect, they are considered mere extensions of their victims.

The extended victim status is pervasive and long standing - for a different example, I offer Neil Stonechild's mother. She has openly blamed police and society for the death of her 17 year old, alcoholic, gun-dealing son. She recieved an apology from the city police chief. No one asked "what the hell for?", or why Stella Bignell wasn't standing beside him, issuing a few apologies of her own for failures of parenthood, the harm inflicted on his victims, the cost to those institutions that tried to assist after the fact.

These same local and provincial governments that presume a moral obligation and legislative authority to "protect" rational adults from the health effects of second hand smoke are frozen by "cultural sensitivity" when it comes to their obligation to protect the most vulnerable citizens in our society.

And while they dither, 4 year olds wander the streets alone and 12 year olds are turning tricks. Neglected, underfed, unschooled - the official reaction is hand wringing about how we can "best support them" or "help their parents to learn better parenting skills". Throw more money. Build a new community center so they can "play basketball" through the wee hours of the morning while their parents are MIA.

I don't think so. If they are going to have a chance in life, we cannot leave small children in the hands of dead end parents. Culture and sensitivity, be damned. These people are not alcoholic glue sniffers because they live in poverty - They live in poverty because they are alcoholic glue sniffers. Their dysfunction is so profound that it is folly to leave these kids at their mercy while they "learn better parenting skills". The rate of success in such experiments is far too low, and much too temporary. The first priority should be getting these kids into a safe environment - foster home, extended family, treatment centers. Build new residental schools, if that's what it takes and tell the detractors to go to hell.

Then, start sending a legal message to deadbeat parents in stark terms. Rescue these little kids from the streets the first time they are spotted. Charge the parents or guardians for neglect.

Related: In Toronto, another 11 year old victim.

Posted by Kate at December 4, 2004 1:41 PM

A Failure in Parenting from Quotulatiousness
Kate, at Small Dead Animals dissects a recent tragedy in Saskatoon: These enlightened attitudes towards "families in poverty" of the past three decades have failed. Welfare and treaty based payments have turned childbearing into a cottage industry. You... [Read More]

Tracked on December 6, 2004 2:35 PM


Well said, Kate. However, our governments lack the will even to interdict large-scale smuggling of weapons and contraband through Indian reserves. The Indians say "Jay Treaty" (which allows nomadic Indians to take their household goods across the border with them without interference or duties) and the border magically opens.

The government wouldn't even impose the full burden of the Firearms Act on our First Personages.

Unless there's a groundswell of support for stern measures, our governments will continue to coast, confident that the worst social pathology will remain confined to the Indian community.

Posted by: Charles MacDonald at December 4, 2004 2:23 PM

A good public flogging would certainly help the parents of a few of these children along. Yes, I'm serious about this. I'm sick and tired of all the f*cktards I see every day who don't do their job as parents and who are Professional Victims.

I knew one family in the past that treated their kid like garbage (Social Services finally removed her from the home, thank Christ), but fed their purebred pitbull the best food and made sure it got the best care. They spent so much $$$ on that f*cking animal that they didn't have the money left over to buy an inhaler for their asthmatic child.

Perhaps people would take better care of their kids if they cost $5000 apiece when you brought them home, too? Just a thought, that.

On a separate note, the expensive pitbull made the news in Calgary sixteen odd years ago when it mauled one of the neighbor's kids and was put down. It's a shame the owners didn't get a needle as well.

Posted by: Sean at December 4, 2004 2:37 PM

I work at a down town hotel in Saskatoon. The other night I saw a group of kids between 5 and 8 walking around and picking our ashtrays for cigarette buts aroun 11:15pm. I have kids that age and I can't imagine them being out downtown at that hour by themselves. Someone needs to be responsible and it can't be 'society' as a whole. These kids give 'society' the finger just like they gave me the finger that night when I told them to get out of our ashtrays.

Posted by: soup at December 4, 2004 4:45 PM

Whoa there. I think you got a little carried away.

Are you really advocating that the state should decide whether parents are maintaining an adequate standard of care? So, not only can the state tell me when to wear a helmet or a seat-belt they should be setting standards of child rearing?!? Yikes.

First, I agree with you that the parents have failed their children. It's tragic. It's enraging. It's inevitable. There has always been bad parents and there will always be bad parents. The question is how best to deal with it.

It is not meaningless navel gazing to ask the question how do you reduce the number of bad parents and how do you mitigate the consequences when there are bad parents. I think we also agree that while parents have the ultimate duty to their kids, society has an obligation to care for those who are neglected.

There are negative aspects to any strategy. In my opinion one cost of the current strategy which emphasizes support and 'enabling' is that some people will abuse it and some who may not need the support will accept it and come to depend on it. This cost, in my opinion, is much smaller than having the state set standards and intervene. Where would it stop? Spanking, nutrition, religion ...

Even the libertarian position of "you can't keep bad things from happening" so let the strong thrive and the weak do the best they can is preferable. In my opinion.

Posted by: Keving at December 4, 2004 5:39 PM

Very well said Kate.

Enough is enough. Since the disappearance of Tamara Keepness, I've listened to enough psychobabble bs to last me a lifetime. IF people are going to bring children into this world, they need to be forced to look after them or lose them. Simple really.

Children at risk should be apprehended ONLY ONCE. After that someone should be insisting, rather forcefully, that steps be taken to stop the production at source. Sterilization should be more than one option among other options. Maybe it should be the only option.


Posted by: sangfroid at December 4, 2004 6:23 PM

Keving remarked: "So, not only can the state tell me when to wear a helmet or a seat-belt they should be setting standards of child rearing?!? Yikes."

I don't think his seat-belt/helmet analogies fit. Parents who habitually let their minor kids run wild, do drugs and commit other crimes are guilty of negligence more analagous to drunk and hit-and-run driving. There's cause for their arrest and punishment and the for removal of their urchins. Cull the criminally negligent weak - it'll strengthen the tribe.

Posted by: JR at December 4, 2004 8:43 PM

Kate, do you have kids? If so, there by the Grace of.. . Take the normal adolescent/teenage rebellion and magnify it 10,000 times should the cult like clutches of gang mentality and/or substance abuse enter the equation.

I can not tell you how many decent aboriginal mothers- mothers of all stripes- I’ve seen tearfully scrape together that last bit of cash and pawn items just to bail their kid out of jail in the hopes that it will be taken as an act to reestablish conduits of trust and love. I can’t tell you how many decent aboriginal mothers- mothers of all stripes- I’ve seen tearfully choose tough love and leave their kids in jail in the hopes they’ll smarten up. I can’t tell you how many decent aboriginal mothers- mothers of all stripes- I’ve seen tearfully beg a judge to find a bed, a program, something - anything.

On top of their anguish, despair and disappointment you would heap scorn and blame? Would you do the same to the CEO’s and business owners, who’s sons and daughters run wild in equal proportion to every other socio/economic group ?

If you want a prime example of the dangers of the “Nanny State” the Indian Act is it. We took it upon ourselves to stand in loco parentis to the natives and we have failed them miserably. Take parenting skills for example. They are not got from a book. They are passed down from generation to generation. We are lucky to have a wide reservoir of parental wisdom upon which to draw. There is always grandma, auntie or neighbour who we can trust to turn for help and advise. What sort of reservoir have the aboriginals to draw upon when 3 or 4 generations in a row are taken away at tender years and not so much parented as regimented. When your mother didn’t mother you and your mother’s mother didn’t mother her who has any experience dealing with uppity 12 yr ols? And your suggestion is to lengthen that chain longer with more residential schools and forced separation?

Finally, the police owe an apology at least for a botched investigation. They may owe one to the officers as well. I think they probably took him on a starlight tour but probably isn’t enough to do away with the presumption of innocence. Had a proper job been done we would likely have known more one way or the other. Police whitewashes, “starlight tours” and “Stanley Park speak to’s” are the stuff of banana republics and totalitarian regimes. They sully the reputation of the 97% or so of the men and woman who do THE TOUGHEST job in the world, day in-day out, without reproach.

Posted by: Nbob at December 5, 2004 3:38 AM

Actually Nbob,Stanley Park speak-to's as you put them,are just old fashioned police work. You know,the kind of thing the old constable walking the beat on the block would do to the young troublemakers and give them a little "incentive" to straighten out and fly right.There wasn't any outcry from the people who actually live and work down there(as opposed to socialist politicians and the aforementioned drug dealers) as they were quite happy to have some good old law and order served up..

Posted by: big al at December 5, 2004 5:20 AM

Gee Officer Crumpkey you don’t understand.... that “ol’fashion” police work only accomplishes two things 1- it puts another chip on the creeps shoulder and gives him another excuse to not care about screwin’ society with his wears. 2- At best, it frightens him into setting up shop in a safer part of town - where it becomes another cops problem.

The honourable officers I know will back their union’s stance in public whenever such controversies arise but in private they view those who engage in “ol’ fashion” police work as badge crazy slackers who are just shoveling off their garbage to another district.

Posted by: Nbob at December 5, 2004 7:27 AM

Agreed - there are mom's of all stripes that do try. The article I quoted on my site states that the mom chose to leave town to visit an on-again, off-again boyfriend.

This mom didn't appear to try. She chose her own needs (?) over the BASIC human needs that one needs to even have a decent chance at a decent life. If that isn't negligence I don't know what is.

Instead of viewing this as advocating for state control of parenting standards, perhaps it should be viewed as advocating for children's rights and wellbeing. So concerned, again, about the parental rights, we forget their responsibilities of tending (to the best of their ability) to the basic human needs of the children they have willingly brought into the world.

Posted by: Janine at December 5, 2004 10:06 AM

The problem with the repetition theory of child abuse and neglect (indeed, of crime generally) is that no one has more incentive to end the cycle than the people who have suffered under it. I'm sure we all know people who come from horrific family backgrounds but refuse to live that way and especially refuse to subject their children to anything like the same conditions. Abdicating all responsibility on the basis of the previous generation's shortcomings is despicable.

The parenting standards which the "nanny state" seeks to enforce are, generally speaking, not on matters about which reasonable parents might disagree. Every year, we hear about children who are locked in a vehicle in frigid weather while the parent plays bingo, drinks or otherwise neglects them. Oh well, the parent probably had bad parents -- not his fault; mustn't be Eurocentric, patronising and paternalistic.

Contrast that reaction with what happens at dog shows when people leave their dogs in hot vehicles. Sometimes the show secretary broadcasts a warning; other times people simply smash the windows, remove the dogs and give the negligent owner a pukka dressing-down.

"No women, dogs or Indians." Once again we see that the old bar sign was correct: Indians rank below dogs. We certainly expect less of them, even though dogs are literally raised by wolves.

Posted by: Charles MacDonald at December 5, 2004 11:17 AM

Quite an interesting point of view from a woman who spent the last hours of her mother's dying days blogging on the internet instead of tending to her at her bedside. Maybe you are the one who has some priorities way out of whack.

[editors note - this comment was not written by "Bernice", but by Meaghan Walker-Williams - a self-described "First Nations activist". I don't normally go about exposing the identity of commentors, but when they issue cheap shots under the names of others, I will reserve the right to make exceptions. ]

Posted by: Bernice at December 5, 2004 11:36 AM

"Gee Officer Crumpkey you don’t understand.... that “ol’fashion” police work only accomplishes two things"

Let me add a third thing: It helped me straighten out. I will be celebrating thirteen years of clean and sober living this coming February. My wonderful wife and daughter will be there in the celebration.

I give some of the credit for this to a cop in Calgary who kicked my ass (literally, not figuratively) when I needed it. He saved my life.

This approach really does help those who can be helped. Those who can't, well...

Posted by: Sean at December 5, 2004 2:10 PM

Kind of a cunt aren't ya Bernice?

Posted by: Lilly at December 5, 2004 2:46 PM

That story hits deep. Grew up seeing that and when I go home thats all I still see. A lot of the injustices they do among themselves is quietly swept under the carpet. I know that for a fact. The caretaker of this little girl should be charged. She probably won't. Might hurt an Indian's feelings. Kate - you once used the term "collective victimization" and that will probably play out here. The mother will probably get counselling and she will be on the news crying about her daughter. Yeah, the big "nanny" plays a big part in this, but also, nothing stops anyone from getting out from crap when they want to. "Poor me" doesn't cut it for me. It makes me ill.

Just my 1/2 breed 02

Posted by: Darcey at December 5, 2004 4:11 PM

Sean- I suppose I wouldn't see the ones where it worked. I suspect it is rare though. Anyway, the people I admire right up there with hard working cops are those who actually get a grip on their deamons. Those who aren't addicts or around them everyday really have no idea how difficult a fight that can be particularly the first few months/yrs. A round of Shirly Temples ( or whatever ) to your table- well done sir!

Bernice- That was a) ad hominem and b) a low blow It adds nothing.

Posted by: Nbob at December 5, 2004 4:41 PM

I suppose it helps to explain why the problems in that community are so overwhelming - if tha'ts the typical reaction of a "First Nations activist" to issues of child neglect.... small wonder things are so desperate.

Posted by: Kate at December 5, 2004 6:34 PM

Good article Kate.

Remember, there is a huge "poverty industry" which gets big salaries, benefits and ironclad job security out of the status quo. They are never, ever going to come up with a solution which would eliminate their own jobs.

The most pragmatic solution is to slowly but steadily cut all spending for social services, and cut taxes proportionately. Plenty of jobs will be created to employ the people who are no longer paid to sit around drinking and taking drugs. As the level of wealth increases, it will be easy for the more fortunate people to take care of the small number of incorrigably debauched and helpless people, through small-scale, local charitable programs.

There is a reason why in the past, charity was done at the level of the local parish: everyone knows everyone, so there is no chance of scamming, shirking, goldbricking or featherbedding - (e.g. by the "poverty activists"). It also motivates everyone to belong to a parish, get to know their neighbors, and in general take more responsibility for the world around them.

Posted by: Justzumgai at December 5, 2004 6:39 PM


I've met well over two thousand alkies at the many functions I have attended through my journey in sobriety. In every single case, the ones who are successful at cleaning up are the ones who have hit bottom.


Your world has to come crashing down. You have to get smacked around by the consequences of your actions. That's where the growth starts.

Take it from me, when you withold 'tough love' from an addict who needs it in the name of compassion, all you're doing is killing them that much more quickly.

My 2 cents (just don't ask me what I paid for them).

Posted by: Sean at December 6, 2004 1:30 AM

"It also motivates everyone to belong to a parish, get to know their neighbors, and in general take more responsibility for the world around them."

The biggest problem with state run charity is that it removes the compassion from those who provide and the humility (please don't confuse this with humiliation) from those who receive.

Posted by: Sean at December 6, 2004 1:33 AM