I am writing to express my outrage on behalf of the Tahltan people at the treatment of one of our members, Michael Nehass, by the Whitehorse Correctional Centre as reported in your editorial on May 16, 2014.
I am president of the Tahltan Central Council, a governing body of the Tahltan Nation, and am confident that I speak for all our people in condemning the inhumane treatment shown to Michael. If the reported details are correct, he is clearly a troubled young man who needs support to straighten his life out. He may even be responsible for actions that deserve punishment. But no one – be he red, white, yellow or black – deserves to be in solitary confinement for days on end, and then humiliated by being presented in public court naked, shackled and held to the floor. It is sickening to think that this is the way correctional staff treat our people.
I am sure the correctional staff will say that he acts out, may even be violent. How would you feel, I ask, if you were stuck in a windowless cell for days on end with no human contact? And if we only learned about this because of the courage of Michael’s father, Russell, in bringing his human rights complaint, how much more goes on behind the closed prison doors without anyone knowing?
There is no escaping the fact that Michael’s aboriginal status is the fundamental reason why he is subjected to such abusive treatment. The centuries of cultural genocide inflicted on our people continues to be felt, generation after generation, and no doubt shaped the path that Michael is on. There is equally no doubt in my mind that it is the fact that he is aboriginal – an “Indian” – that gives correctional staff the licence to treat him like a non-human. The abuse he is suffering is just one more step in the cycle of discrimination inflicted on the aboriginal peoples of Canada that has been going on for centuries.
The only silver lining that I can see in this story is that it will hopefully push this issue into the spotlight and lead to an investigation of Michael’s treatment, and the use of solitary confinement in the WCC in general. But for now, all I can say is shame, shame on everyone who participated in humiliating and degrading this young aboriginal man.
Dease Lake, B.C.