I pulled November 19th’s editions of the Whitehorse Star and Yukon News from the paper box at Tagish and felt so dismayed I wanted to throw them on the ground.
Not more Raymond Silverfox! Will this ever end?
There are so many things that need to be said and for various reasons, some quite sound, never get vocalized.
We sweep things under the rug that we don’t want to deal with and they fester in the dark and breed like cockroaches.
I couldn’t sleep thinking of the terrible death of Silverfox, the anguish of the family and the arrogance of one of our most revered and respected institutions.
At 2 a.m. I got up and wrote this little essay.
You may not wish to publish it, but I have written things I feel are important to put on the table and talk about, not just for the sake of future First Nations youth, but for the sake of the whole of the Yukon.
We all live with the degradation caused by alcohol abuse in one form or another, an overburdened medical and policing system, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome robbing lives of potential, tax monies that could be put to better use and of increased crime. Both sides have much to think about and regret.
I have no doubt that he was a loving father and a prince of a fellow when sober. But Silverfox was not sober when he died; he was a howling, puking, defecating, out-of-control chronic alcoholic.
Nor were the Mounties, great symbols of Canada, behaving like Canada’s finest; they were rude, unfeeling, arrogant and unprofessional brutes.
Silverfox did not die because the Mounties stooped to mockery. He died because he had sunk into such a state of extreme inebriation that he aspirated his own vomit, poisoning his own body. No one finished looking very good on that awful December evening in 2008 Ã certainly not the RCMP involved, and sadly, not poor Silverfox.
There is plenty of blame to spread around and also plenty of questions.
The one big question never voiced in all that has been written since that fatal night is a question we should all ask ourselves. How long would we, each of us, white, brown, black and all shades in between, attend, day after day and night after night, to such messes before we, too, unraveled and said, “Just sleep in your own shit!”
I’m ashamed to say I would flunk; I don’t do icky. I would have been out of there before the end of my very first shift.
Knowing that, I have exceedingly great admiration for the Mounties and also for those in the emergency ward who deal with such nastiness on a daily basis. Yet, even so, I do believe that those in a position of power who belittled an ill and dying man, denying him even the small comfort of a blanket, should have been summarily dismissed.
Some questions are more painful to answer than others.
Where was Silverfox’s family as he sank deeper and deeper into alcoholic squalor? Where were they when he needed encouragement, good nutrition and tough love?
Where were his cohorts, the ones who prowl the grocery store parking lots in search of loonies? Were they giving him a hand up instead of only camaraderie in the long spiral downwards?
Where are the First Nation mentors, those who stayed in school, graduated and went on to a degree or became a journeymen and accomplished tradesmen?
I know they exist, and can name a good many.
Why are they not starting an after-school program of tutoring to encourage and assist vulnerable, struggling youth so that they may have a brighter future?
Where are the mentors in responsible leadership positions and who can encourage youth to speak up and speak out in an articulate voice to claim the dignity they deserve?
Where are the band leaders whose lofty pronouncements about helping our people should be translated into concrete action, promoting responsibility and sobriety and also a thirst for knowledge and education?
There is a direct correlation between low graduation rates and high rates of incarceration. Efforts to correct this imbalance must come from within the First Nation communities to have real meaning; otherwise it is just words and money cast to the winds.
Where are the new alcohol treatment facilities designed especially to treat aboriginal cultures? Every northern community should have one built with their much-vaunted land claims money.
What kind of message is sent to Yukon’s aboriginal youth when Eddie Skookum rises, like cream to the top, after severely beating a woman in a drunken rage while his detractors are vilified?
The sad, ignoble death of Silverfox could give his memory positive meaning if it serves to remind us of how closely below our polished, polite surface inhumanity lurks.
We need that reminder.
Suing the RCMP is just another way to validate the family’s victimhood in a fleeting quest for retribution.
Perhaps his death may bring some lasting positive change to his daughter’s generation, but only if his people are willing to put some serious thought and effort into it.
All Yukoners should get behind an effort to undo the carnage wrought by alcohol abuse and we can do it in the name of Silverfox. What a legacy!