A Kluane First Nation woman says she had to flee her community after her nephew was badly beaten last weekend in Burwash Landing.
Last Friday night two men kicked in the door to Gloria Johnson’s nephew’s home and attacked him with a baseball bat. When police arrived an hour later from Haines Junction, the victim was taken to the local health center and then on to Whitehorse General Hospital where he was treated and released.
Yukon RCMP spokesman David Gilbert said that the police are investigating the beating.
Johnson said she left the community to stay at the women’s shelter in Whitehorse because she doesn’t feel safe.
The beating appears to be retribution from a previous confrontation. While Johnson acknowledges that her nephew has a troubled history, she feels that not enough is being done to deal with violence in the community.
“It’s prevalent in our community. It’s historical violence. I’ve left three times now,” she said.
In another earlier incident, Johnson said a KFN employee drunkenly attacked her nephew in her yard. When she complained to her government, the First Nation refused to do anything, Johnson said.
But there is little the First Nation can do if victims don’t press charges, said KFN chief Math’ieya Alatini.
“We’ve been trying to encourage people who are experiencing violent situations to call the police. Because we don’t have a police detachment in Burwash, we’ve had a summer police officer who comes up and stays here. His last shift was on Wednesday,” she said.
“I’ve followed up with the police and they are investigating, but there is nothing they can do if no one comes forward and makes a statement,” Alatini said.
Alatini said Johnson has never brought her concerns to council, and never made any report of the violence. Johnson’s sister is Alyce Johnson, who ran unsuccessfully against Alatini in the First Nation’s recent elections.
What happened to Johnson’s nephew isn’t representative of the community, said Alatini. “Out of the entire community, this is one or two people who can’t handle their liquor and are just violent. It’s not the entire community,” she said.
Alatini said the community has struggled to find a way to deal with problems like this. The issue was raised at a recent health summit. They have also held anti-violence workshops and community awareness workshops to help tell people why it’s important to come forward.
“If you want your community to be safe, you need to step up and tell people what your boundaries are. It’s not a unique situation. Every First Nation community faces this, where you don’t want to get the person in trouble because they are your nephew or your brother or your cousin,” she said.
“It’s not just council that has to do it, because we’re not seeing what is occurring at these parties. We can’t make the statements to the police that will result in a conviction or charges being laid. We deal with the aftermath,” she said.
Alatini said the legacy of the residential school program contributes to the violence, but that it shouldn’t be used as an excuse.
“Some of it is definitely related to intergenerational trauma and residential schools. If your parents did not know how to parent, you’re not raised with the boundaries of right and wrong. There’s a lot of anger that comes with that. People often deal with it with alcohol or drugs, and the resultant violence, you can see a cause and effect there.”
Having a permanent police presence in Burwash would be a big improvement, Alatini said. The First Nation is also working towards creating its own justice department through its self-government agreement, but that work is still relatively far off.
“How do we as a government or a community deal with it? It’s tough. You can’t expect council to deal with it if the individuals are not wanting to take responsibility for it or wanting to change. You can’t make people change.”
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