Each week, it seems, another plea is made for a national inquiry into the hundreds of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls in Canada.
Only a thorough investigation into the root causes of this dreadful dilemma will provide policy-makers with solutions, the thinking goes. Why do so many young aboriginal women end up on the streets of this country, making themselves vulnerable to predators? Who is responsible for the often appalling sense of self-worth that many of these teenaged girls possess – a self-esteem so low they believe life in an alleyway or rancid hotel room is somehow what they deserve?
In British Columbia, the stories of how the provincial government and First Nations leadership have failed young aboriginal girls are unending. And if you want to understand some of the factors responsible for the missing-women phenomenon, you need look no further than the depressing tales of abuse and neglect exposed over the years by the province's Representative for Children and Youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond.
In Friday's Globe and Mail, reporter Wendy Stueck revealed yet another example of government and native leadership failing young aboriginal women.
In 2010, the B.C. government provided more than $5-million to help launch and fund a native healing and wellness centre in Chilliwack. It was a function of the province's mostly disastrous policy decision in 2001 to hand over more child-welfare authority and care to First Nations. In a recent report, Ms. Turpel-Lafond showed how nearly $66-million of government funding was sent to native child-welfare agencies over the course of a dozen years, with precious few children benefiting from a dollar of it.
The $5-million-plus in provincial funds for the native wellness centre wasn't included in that number, but should be added to it because the operation went under less than two years after it was opened. And a former employee is still awaiting trial on charges related to the alleged sexual assault of a then-15-year-old aboriginal girl who went to the centre for help, care and protection.
The Ministry of Children and Family Development referred only one person in its care to the centre during the time it was open. A total of 14 others were sent there by authorities in B.C.'s youth justice system or delegated aboriginal agencies. And for this the government parted with more than $5-million in taxpayers' dollars? That's quite an investment.
The alleged sex-assault victim, meantime, is still trying to recover from the psychological damage caused by whatever happened to her at the centre; this while additionally facing the prospect of being "aged-out" of the foster-care system because she is approaching the age of 19. This means she could soon be facing a future on her own, with no way of supporting herself.
And people wonder why so many young native girls end up on the streets of downtown Vancouver or other Canadian cities, prostituting themselves to make a living.
The story of the Stehiyaq Healing and Wellness Village is a disgrace and a shameful example of the B.C. government handing over responsibility for the care of aboriginal children without putting proper safeguards in place. What were the qualifications of those working at the centre? Did anyone do police background checks on staff? Was anyone coming in and inspecting the place?
In its rush to make aboriginal leadership in this province happy, did the government investigate whether a group demanding to run a centre for at-risk teens had the capacity and qualified personnel to pull it off? A lot of bad things can happen when there is no accountability attached to a situation involving kids.
Did the provincial government launch an investigation into what happened to this young girl? It doesn't appear so. The government didn't even bother informing the province's Child Representative about the matter. Ms. Turpel-Lafond found out from another source.
If you want to get to the bottom of the missing and murdered aboriginal women crisis in our country, be prepared for lots of stories like this one. It is not unique. And one is just as sad and infuriating as the next. If we're going to have a national inquiry, then there are a lot of groups, and a lot of people in them, who are going to have to answer some very difficult and uncomfortable questions. This isn't just a government problem, although governments in this country certainly deserve some of the blame. This is a national tragedy that many people must own.
Today we have a young B.C. native girl who badly needs healing because she went to a healing lodge. How infuriating is that?