My friend Tracy Nesdoly has said for decades that if she were running a Canadian newspaper, she would treat coverage of aboriginals and aboriginal issues as a foreign bureau, complete with foreign correspondent and travel budget.
The reporter would be posted to, say, Regina for three years, with the mandate to write about this country's reserves, isolated and not, about natives, rural and urban, and to move around the country with the same set of fresh eyes and wonder that often distinguishes the best work of a correspondent posted to Beijing or London or Washington.
Only then, Ms. Nesdoly always believed, would the story of Canada's natives get the hearing and attention it deserves; only then might it be properly and fully told.
She is a smart, smart cookie, and this remains one of her best newspaper ideas. I thought of it again this week, when we all learned of what happened to the two little Pauchay girls.
Is there a story more wrenching than this one?
On the Yellow Quill First Nation in Saskatchewan not far from Kelvington, young parents Christopher and Tracey Pauchay, home on a bitter Monday night in the midst of a deep freeze, had a huge fight, a regular occurrence when they drink, according to some family members. At some point, the mother stormed out, leaving the 24-year-old father in charge of their youngsters, three-year-old Kaydence and one-year-old Santana.
She apparently went to a relative's house, to continue drinking.
By all accounts, if he wasn't already, Mr. Pauchay proceeded to get hammered - the day before, he'd bought two bottles of whisky and a case of beer - and at some point, something happened that sent him out headlong into the frigid night.
One explanation, and perhaps it is true but it comes from relatives and sounds as though borne in kindness for him, suggests that the baby was sick, or hurt, and that it was this urgent concern or panic that, some time after midnight, propelled him out his front door carrying his barely dressed kids (over their diapers and T-shirts one was wrapped in a thin blanket, the other swaddled in Mr. Pauchay's own coat).
As someone who comes from a long line of alcoholics on my late mother's side, my own crass and cynical thought is to wonder whether Mr. Pauchay simply had run out of booze, and was on a hunt for more.
In any case, out the door he lurched, ostensibly heading to his sister's place only 400 metres away, but through a howling winter storm. At some point, he dropped both children, a fact he didn't fully realize at the time or remember later, and wasn't able to tell anyone when he finally crawled, hours later, to a neighbor's front step.
According to the neighbours, Mr. Pauchay was incoherent, still under the influence of alcohol and suffering from hypothermia and frostbite. They called an ambulance, and by 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, he was arriving at Kelvington's hospital.
The widespread report is that he survived about five hours in -50 temperatures without even a jacket and despite the fact that, as a vasodilator, alcohol increases vulnerability to hypothermia. Suffice to say, that issue forms part of the ongoing investigation.
In any case, about eight hours after Mr. Pauchay arrived at hospital, at 1:30 p.m., he inquired for the first time about his children, which set off alarm bells, and in swift order, had police searching for the girls. That afternoon, a tuft of dark hair was spotted in a snowbank and the body of Santana was recovered; with the blowing snow, it was another 24 hours before the RCMP search team found Kaydence's.
The very young, like the very old, are particularly susceptible to hypothermia.
According to Mr. Pauchay's sister Bernita, her brother remembers carrying the youngsters in his arms, remembers falling in the snow, remembers being frightened.
Consider some of the other facts that emerged in a sort of by-the-by way about the family: The Pauchays were 21 and 18 respectively when they had their first baby (the older girl, in a now-familiar family portrait, appears to my untrained and admittedly jaundiced eye to have some of the features of fetal alcohol effects); neither parent appears to have been working; they were drinking heavily on a Monday night; Tracey Pauchay apparently fled to a relative's after the couple's quarrel, where she continued to drink; leaving her kids in the care of her husband when both were drinking was a regular pattern, and Mr. Pauchay is described as having been their regular and reliable caregiver - oh, and there was no telephone in the house.
No phone in the house, in 2008.
Consider some of the facts that have emerged in the same manner about the reserve: An effort by the band council to make the reserve a dry one, although controversial, passed in a vote in 2005 but wasn't certified by Indian Affairs, apparently because of a procedural issue; the unsuccessful move to ban alcohol was rooted in a rash of suicides; some of the band chief's political opponents apparently blame him for each crisis, citing black magic; the reserve water supply was so poor that until 2004, when a new water treatment system began operating, residents lived under a boil-water alert that lasted fully eight years.
Would any community in Canada - but for one on a reserve - have had to endure such an alert for eight years?
A picture from the boil-water time comparing the raw water in Yellow Quill with the raw water in Saskatoon shows the former as so dark as to be almost black, the latter virtually clear.
A nurse who worked on Yellow Quill told CTV News that conditions on the reserve are worse than in a Third World country; who doesn't accept that this is so, that it isn't confined to this reserve, and that it is a shame and a disgrace?
My friend Tracy Nesdoly is right. Let me go on record now: If The Globe decides to create that new foreign bureau, I'm applying for the job.