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Carlick’s disappearance exposes lack of support for First Nations youth

Pictured in her cap and gown, Angel Carlick is smiling.The black-and-white photo flutters on a downtown Whitehorse poster board.

Pictured in her cap and gown, Angel Carlick is smiling.

The black-and-white photo flutters on a downtown Whitehorse poster board.

Above it, in bold, black letters is one word — “Missing.”

“Angel was very proud about giving everybody grad pictures,” said family friend Darlene Jim.

“But I didn’t expect to see them on posters put up to find her.”

The 19-year-old has been officially missing since May 31st.

However, friends and family haven’t seen her since a grad barbecue at Jim’s on May 27th.

“She was very excited about graduating,” said Jim, who’s known Angel since she was four years old.

“She wouldn’t have missed her graduation for anything.”

It was Monday afternoon, and Jim was standing outside Bluefeather Youth Centre with Carlick’s best friend, Tamara Jim.

The two girls talked every day.

“She always called me,” said Tamara, who hasn’t seen Carlick since the barbecue.

Talking about Carlick, Tamara was clearly shaken.

The youth are having trouble dealing with Carlick’s disappearance, said Bluefeather executive director Vicki Durrant.

“And there’s nothing in place to help them.”

Last year, centre youth made an animated film about dealing with trauma.

Carlick helped write it, said Durrant.

And she worked on the video.

In it, a group of youth divides after a friend dies from drinking.

Half the group seeks counselling.

The others drink more.

The film ends with a second death.

It’s a pattern Durrant sees far too often.

And since Carlick’s disappearance, she’s watched substance abuse increase dramatically among the youth.

“More and more kids are coming in drunk,” she said.

“And I’m trying to be flexible because of what’s going on.

“But when they’re drunk they’re disruptive and they can’t stay at the centre.”

There are no supports in place for them, said Durrant, who deals with crisis on a weekly basis.

“With all the resources in this community for counselling, I’d like to know what percentage of that is going to the First Nations,” she said.

More than 98 per cent of the youth who use Bluefeather are First Nations.

“We have 20 kids hurting,” said Durrant.

“And there’s no funding for First Nations counsellors.”

Yukon Family Services’ Outreach Van stopped by the youth centre last week.

There were three staff on board and at least one of them was a counsellor, said Durrant.

“But the kids didn’t want to talk to them because they’re not First Nations.”

Last week, one of the youth attempted suicide.

Durrant feels helpless.

“I would love to be able to phone Skookum Jim (Friendship Centre) and get them to send a First Nations counsellor over to hang out with the youth for a couple of hours,” she said.

“But they don’t have the resources.”

The youth programs and initiatives in the community don’t help First Nations young people, she said.

Durrant has seen elders come to Bluefeather and watched the youth speak freely.

“But when a non-First Nations person comes in, it takes forever for them to open up,” she said.

The territory needs more First Nations counsellors, agreed Family Services’ executive director Marliyn Wolovick.

There’s a natural trust that exists between First Nations, she said.

“But trust is also something you can build across a racial divide.”

For the last five years, Family Services ran a youth outreach program that employed two youth counsellors.

Since October, the program provided services to 136 youth.

In March, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government cut the funding.

“Currently, the youth outreach program has no staff,” said Wolovick.

Although Family Services managed to cobble together enough money to keep the program running into May, it couldn’t retain its counsellors.

Without firm funding in place, both employees found other jobs, she said.

“It was a real loss.

“Those counsellors had built strong relationships with the youth.”

Half of their clients were First Nations.

The two counsellors, who met with youth individually and in groups, were not.

Recruiting First Nations staff is difficult, said Wolovick, citing a shortage in the field.

The territory picked up the federal slack and will now fund the youth outreach program.

Wolovick is hiring new counsellors. She’s hoping to see First Nations applicants.

But not all aboriginal people who graduate with social work degrees stay in the territory, she said.

There are currently two First Nations counsellors working on the Outreach Van, employed through Kaushee’s Place.

But these counsellors aren’t youth-specific.

Mark Kelley, the sole employee of Skyward Outreach Services, has worked with Whitehorse youth.

Although Kelley would like to see more First Nations counsellors on the beat, he didn’t find his non-aboriginal background impeded his work.

“It’s helpful to have someone who understands the culture,” he said.

“But that’s the same whether you have a Greek, a South American or a Martian client.

 “My caseload was through the roof with mostly First Nations youth and I didn’t find it a barrier.”

Of course, he’ll never know which kids opted to stay away because he wasn’t First Nations, he said.

Nevertheless, youth housing trumps the need for First Nation counsellors, he said.

The need for housing “is transcendent of culture,” he added.

Health and Social Services doesn’t employ any youth counsellors.

Its only counsellors work at Alcohol and Drug Services. Their work is not specific to youth, said department spokesperson Pat Living.

“People can come in and use our services, but our staff doesn’t go out into the community,” she added.

The department has a team in place to deal with trauma, said Living.

Called the Critical Incident Stress Management Team, it generally deals with things like fires, tragic community deaths, and multiple-vehicle accidents.

It is not designed to help troubled youth, like the young people struggling with Carlick’s disappearance, said Living.

“There’s not enough support for First Nations young people,” said Durrant.

“These kids deal with death and tragedy on a regular basis.

“And some are able to talk about it. But others hold everything in.”

Carlick’s little brother isn’t doing well, added Durrant.

The 15-year-old lives in a Whitehorse group home.

And Carlick wanted to help him.

“Her goal was to graduate and adopt her brother,” said Durrant.

Carlick started at the youth centre when she was 17.

At first, she had trouble making it to work.

She was an alcoholic and homeless, said Durrant.

A year later, she’d landed an apartment and was running the show at Bluefeather.

“She cooked, managed the centre and worked one-on-one with the kids as a mentor,” said Durrant.

“It’s not just like she was a friend of these kids, she’s like family — Angel is like their sister.”

Carlick was also part of the mural project at Hougen’s.

The News talked with Carlick in October.

It was a cold afternoon and she was dishing up stew for her mother and grandmother at Bluefeather.

At the time, Carlick was homeless.

So was her mom.

“I worry about my mom a lot,” said Carlick, whose dream was to make a down payment on a house for her.

“Angel had her head together,” said Durrant.

“She had plans for a future and was making decisions that were getting her places.”

Carlick didn’t pick up her paycheque on May 31st.

“And her ID and clothes are still at the centre,” said Durrant.

There are some things about Carlick’s disappearance that just don’t add up, she said.

Three days after she lost touch with friends and family, the RCMP talked with Carlick.

The police won’t say why.

“The RCMP spoke directly to her on May 31st,” confirmed police spokesperson Bridgette Parker.

“We talk to people all the time,” she said.

“She was not being arrested, or detained or talked to about another investigation.”

But Durrant and Carlick’s friends are not so sure.

“Some think Carlick witnessed the murder (of Colin Stephen Sawrenko),” said Durrant.

On May 22nd, the 52-year-old First Nations man was assaulted near Shipyards Park and later died from the injuries.

“Why were the RCMP the last people to see Angel?” said Durrant.

“What were they talking to her about?”

The police have no suspect or leads in the disappearance of Carlick, or in the murder of Sawrenko.

Anyone with information should call the Whitehorse detachment at 667-5555 or call Crimestoppers anonymously at 1 (800) 222-TIPS (8477).