Authors: Deborah Ellis
During the Second World War, the government took nearly one million acres from Native Americans for military purposes. Some of the land was used for training. Some of the land was used for Japanese internment camps.
The Western Shoshone have the unfortunate distinction of being the most heavily bombed nation on earth. Their land, which traditionally stretched from Idaho to California's Mojave Desert, includes the Nevada Test Site, where 928 American and 19 British atomic bombs have been detonated. Some were underground in a series of artificial tunnels and caves. Many were above ground.
Communities could feel the ground shake from the explosions and see the bright flashes of light. The radioactive dust settled on their homes, turning gardens black, killing animals and causing cancer in people.
The Duckwater Shoshone Tribe, in the high Nevada desert, was one of the communities contaminated by the fallout from these bombs.
I met Angelica in the community's gymnasium.
There are thirteen students in my school â the whole school. It's the Duckwater Shoshone Elementary School, and if you want to see it just walk out of this gym and go down the hall and it's right there.
We have two classrooms and a library. The thirteen of us are split into groups, all ages in each group, so we all study together. One teacher takes a group for reading, another takes a group for math, then we switch classrooms.
Road to the Duckwater
A year ago we had really bad scores on our reading tests. The teacher said, “I'll work really hard to help you all read better, and if you work really hard too, then we'll all be in it together.” So we talked about it and decided that's what we would do. So we did.
I grew up here so it's normal for me to go to a small school. I went to another school for a while â the one up on the highway. It's a public school, so white kids go there. It's about the same size as this school. I like it here because I get to learn the Shoshone language.
There's a really big kitchen in this place, big like in a restaurant. Almost every week there is some event here and people from the community come and we all have a big meal together. We all know everyone and they all know us, and when someone asks us how we're doing in school we better have a good answer!
Today we're doing our Veterans' Day ceremony. Everyone is here. The whole rez. You could drive through the whole rez today and you wouldn't see anyone. Because they're all here! Even the kids from the other school are here.
I'm doing a Fancy Shawl Dance at the ceremony and I'm helping to give out the honors. All the kids in the school are taking part. Some are flag bearers. Some are dancers.
It's about honoring the veterans. We do it every year. Lots of people from here have been in the military. My mom was in the air guard for six years. In my family there are people who were in the marines and the air force. Almost everyone here has done that or had a relative who has done that.
What will happen is we'll have a grand entry. The dancers will come in, then the flags, and everyone will stand. Then the people who had people go to war will come forward and be honored. Then the people who went to war will come up and everyone applauds.
My great-granddad was in the army. He trained mine dogs â dogs that sniff out bombs in the ground. One of my teachers is a veteran too. It's a common thing.
My mom works at the planning office on the reservation. She has an office here, but she travels all over for her work. I go with her a lot and we meet other Native people. We go to Phoenix, Reno, Salt Lake City, all over. Mom has her meeting and I hang out with the other kids. It's good.
I have four sisters and two brothers, all older than me. Some are in their thirties. One of my sisters is in high school in Las Vegas. She's staying there with a friend. When the time comes for me to go to high school I'll bus out to Eureka probably, but I might stay here and do it online.
My house is out by itself, out by an old cattle car. There are lots of things I like to do in my free time. Play tag. Run around. I like basketball. I like baking pies. Last winter I made pies practically every day, I liked it so much. I may become a baker after I finish school. One of my favorite things is to swing from the tree branch in the yard. It makes the dogs bark and it's really funny.
We live out by Duckwater Falls, where the hot spring is. It's a big swimming hole and it's warm water all year round. You can just go for a swim even in the winter.
Duckwater isn't a big place and there's not a lot of people. We kids all know each other. When we have problems we have to work it out because we're all just here together.
The legacy of residential schools and colonialism has led many to try to mask their pain with alcohol and illegal drugs. While many reserves and reservations have been declared by their communities to be “dry” (no alcohol can be brought in or sold), smugglers still find ways to bring it in. New mining opportunities
including the building of roads and an influx of non-community workers
create new opportunities for smugglers.
I met Wusto at a Native youth drug treatment center.
I was born in Toronto but I grew up on Wikwemikong Reserve on Manitoulin Island. We call it Wiky for short. Mom is Ojibwe and my dad is Mi'kmaq.
I've lived most of my life in Wiky. It feels free up there. You can walk around late at night without being afraid. Little kids play all over the roads because there aren't many cars.
On the down side you can wake up on summer nights to the sound of people fighting. There's lots of drinking up there. Some adults go on week-long drinking binges.
It's a good place to live from birth until grade four, but not so good after that. There's very little for kids to do. That's why we end up drinking and on drugs.
After grade four, everything changes. You see older kids. You look up to them and want to do what they do.
The teachers don't say anything if they know you're high because if they kicked out all the kids in class who were high there'd be no one left in the classroom.
I went to school high on drugs every day in grade eight and no one said anything to me about it. The teachers could recognize the signs. It's not hard to spot.
I started out with weed, like everyone else. It's everywhere up there. After weed most kids move on to pills like OxyContin and Percocet. Lots start oxys even younger than me. Oxys are hard to get off of. You get the shakes bad.
A friend's mom goes to Sudbury, the closest big city, and steals things. She sells what she steals and uses the money to buy drugs. Before her trip she goes to her customers and asks them what they want. She'll steal what they want, they'll pay her, and that's how she gets money.
In another friend's house there were ten kids, all getting high. Their dad's off somewhere, disappeared, and their mom says nothing. She grows weed in her basement. It brings in money.
If someone is getting investigated, someone in the police station will let the family know they're being watched. So it never ends.
There are often drug busts in the high school. The high school on the reserve is really nice. You can study Native languages there. But still, lots of drugs.
OxyContin is a prescription drug. It's for pain if you break a bone or something. People work at places where they can steal it, then sell it. It's expensive. It can cost you $30 to get high. The price goes up with the dosage.
I did oxy only once, but I'd do it again if I wasn't here in treatment. You crush the pill into tinfoil, light it and inhale the smoke. You get high as soon as you inhale. It's also called Hillbilly Heroin. Once you breathe it in you just put your head back and be high. Your face feels happy.
Wiky could be a great place to live if it weren't so messed up. People my grandmother's age were sent to residential schools. They were taken away from their families, put into institutions, were punished for speaking their languages, were told they were no good because they're Indian. They lost touch with their families. A lot of them were hit or were sexually abused by the priests or teachers. When they grew up and got out and had their own kids, they had no idea how to be parents.
It wasn't just my grandparents' generation that this happened to. My dad had a terrible time at school too. He got hurt and picked on all the time by the white teachers, him and the other Native kids. He got picked up by the ears and dropped to the floor. They made him kneel on hot radiators. And he wasn't allowed to speak his language.
Alcohol was an escape. When Dad was a kid his mom and dad would be passed out on the floor and he'd take a taste of their booze. They made their own booze so it was cheap and always around. His parents were both in residential school. They didn't know how to be parents. They didn't know how to show him love.
There were lots of suicides in Dad's community when he was younger. There still are but they're trying to fix it.
Dad had a drinking problem for a long while, but he managed to get out of that cycle. He's been sober now for fifteen years.
It was in the summer between grade four and grade five that I first smoked grass. My friend and I found my brother's pipe that had some weed in it and we smoked that.
You don't need an actual pipe though. You can get an old can, poke some holes in it and smoke weed through that.
I won't lie to you. There's parts about taking drugs that I really like. But there's parts I don't like too, like seeing what people are like after a lot of years of doing it. I've seen too many fights, too many wasted people.
I've always known that I'm going to college. My mom constantly tells me that I'm going and the way she says it, there's no arguing with her. Other people say I'll end up pregnant, on welfare and dead-ending it. My mom's voice is stronger. My mom is a woman you don't want to mess with. If she says I'm going to college, then I'm going. End of story.
Most kids don't have someone like my mom who will say things like that to them. And if you don't see anything different, you don't know there's anything different out there.
So I always knew I wasn't going to stay on drugs, but that didn't mean I was really ready to come off them now.
Mom and Dad were going to send me here in January but I said I could quit on my own. But I didn't quit. So one morning, early, they woke me up and said, “You're going to treatment.” I refused. They said, “We're your parents. We're making you go.”
I've had a few little problems with the law. I was on probation already for theft. I took my mom's car without asking her and my aunt called the cops. I also have driving without a license, break and enter, and I've gotten warnings for disturbing the peace, being intoxicated in public and trespassing.
The night I got the warnings I also got bottled. Someone threw a bottle at me during a fight. So I got a big bruise.
So, between my parents and the police, I was pretty much forced to come here. But it's been mostly good, really good. I've learned a lot about myself and about my culture. I feel ready to leave old things behind and start a new life.
I'm still aiming for college or university. For sure I'll take Native languages and Native studies. Beyond that I'm not sure. Maybe architecture.
The bottom line is that Native people are really amazing and strong and beautiful and can do a lot of things when they have something to believe in.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Native Americans are put in prison at a rate that's 38 percent higher than the national rate. In Canada Aboriginals make up 4 percent of the population but 23 percent of inmates, up from 17 percent ten years ago. Native prisoners are also more likely to be sent to maximum security or segregation, and prison guards are more likely to use force on them than on white inmates. A relationship has been established between dropping out of high school and being put behind bars. Racism also plays a big role. According to the Native Women's Association of Canada, 40 percent of Aboriginal inmates in Canadian prisons are either residential school survivors or they are the children of survivors or they were affected by the Sixties Scoop. Many become reoffenders.
In recent years, much work has been done to create opportunities for restorative justice
the sort of justice that brings healing to both the victim and the perpetrator, helping to ensure that the offender will not offend again. But too many young people are still caught up in the old system that focuses on punishment.
I met with Brad inside a youth prison.
I'm from Hamilton. I never met my grandparents. Just my mom and brothers and sisters. Dad left when I was two or three. Mom is a single mom. She doesn't have a job.
We're Mohawk. My mom's family is from the Six Nations reserve. My dad's family is from the reserve too. I haven't had any contact with them. When I was younger it didn't matter. Now that I'm older I'd like to see my dad again and meet my other relatives. I don't know if I'll get to do that or not.
I've been in this youth prison for a year. I get out in a couple of weeks.
I've been in and out of custody since I was twelve. I've been in four closed prisons and lots of open-custody places. Open custody means no fence and you go on lots of outings. The YMCA will take you out to movies, things like that.
I've been charged with different things over the years. Two frauds, four assaults with a deadly weapon, assault causing bodily harm, identity theft. Things like that.
I only met my mom a couple of years ago. I knew her when I was a lot younger of course, but I don't remember. Children's Aid took me into foster care when I was four.
I grew up in foster homes. A lot of foster homes. You're always nervous at first because you don't know the people and you want to say the right thing so they won't hate you.
I was in one foster home for a few years. They liked me and wanted to adopt me. But then one of their other foster kids hit their daughter. I pushed him down the stairs to get him away from her. The daughter didn't speak up for me, so it looked like I was just a bad kid, and they threw me out.
After that it was a lot of foster homes and a lot of group homes. None of the foster parents were Native. Some were white, some were Jamaican. Native parents raise their kids different. It's a different rhythm. More patience and understanding, less giving out orders and punishments.
I've been in six different group homes.
Fence surrounding the youth prison
The group homes were awful. I would never want to go back to one of those places again. They're dirty. All my stuff got stolen. The kids who end up in group homes are the ones that are rejects from foster homes. They're the kids everyone has given up on. They're like waiting rooms for jails because no one expects anything worthwhile of us so they don't put anything worthwhile into us.
I finally found my mom again a few years ago. She's been an addict for a long time, smoking crack and taking pills. She's been clean for a year. I told her, “I'll love you no matter what, but if you don't stop doing drugs you'll never be able to see us.” So she stopped, but it wasn't easy. Addictions are hell. She goes now to a methadone clinic and has to give regular urine samples to prove she's clean.
She had a terrible life. She's been stabbed, raped, beaten by a man using a bat with spikes on it. When she was a kid she was raped by her own dad. He was a prison guard. At another prison, not here, a prison for adults. All the other guards there knew he did it. None of them did anything to help my mother. She said he told her how he bragged about it to them. She got pregnant from him. He took her to get the abortion.
I'm in here now because I stabbed another guy who also raped my mom.
I never used the rape as my defense. I never told the court that's why I did it. I figured that was my mother's story to tell, not mine. I just kept silent and took my punishment. I'm really protective of my family. I've stabbed a lot of people â guys, that is, not women. It's always guys who are hurting other people. I've never been hurt by a woman. I stabbed a guy who was kicking my sister, stabbed another guy who was beating another sister. I never use that as a defense.
I do get nervous going to court, even though I've been there a lot. If you're already in custody, they take you from jail to the central police station and they put you in a cell. To take you up to court they put shackles and handcuffs on you. You sit like that for a while in the courthouse cells. It's boring and uncomfortable. If you get fed, it's crap food, the cheapest thing they can find. And if it's moldy, so what? You're nothing. They make sure you know it. Then they bring you into the court, the adults talk for a while, then they take you back to the cell again.
Sometimes they'll let me talk. The judge might ask, “Are these the facts?” Sometimes they'll ask you for an explanation, but if you say one thing slightly different from what the lawyer already said, that causes more trouble and more delays, so what's the point of saying anything?
Court is not a natural environment for a kid. A kid just wants to talk and have a conversation, but court is not a place where you feel comfortable to do that. I get that we're there because we're in trouble and it's set up so that we feel intimidated. I just don't think it really solves any problems.
I've got fourteen high-school credits. There's a school at this prison. It's good to be able to study. I've got a job waiting for me when I get out of here, roofing and welding. And I'm going to learn drywalling. I hope I can finish school, but we'll have to see.
The longest I've ever been in custody is two and a half years. It really feels weird to get out of prison and see that everyone you know has gotten older. You've been locked away in a time capsule and the world has gone on without you.
This is a prison, so there are hard things, but there are good things too. I think they think that because we're young, there might still be a chance we can turn things around, that we're not hard-core criminals yet. So we go to classes, there's a weight room, there's a yard where we can play basketball, there's a library.
We're on a strict schedule. We wake up at 6:30, shower, go to breakfast, brush our teeth and do our chores. Everyone does their chore then goes back to their room until the chores are all done. We're assigned chores like cleaning the washrooms and showers, mopping the floor, cleaning the lounge. We do them morning and evening.
After chores we go to school for seventy-five minutes, back to the cells for a count, then another seventy-five minutes of school. After lunch we have a twenty-minute break. Then it's school, break, school again. By that time it's 3:30.
Then we have activities. Sometimes it's swimming or weights or in the gym or outside. You go with your range. You don't have to go. You can stay in your cell, but if you go, you go with the range.
There have been lots of scraps among the guys lately. Lots of fighting with the corrections officers. Sometimes it's calm here for a long time. Then it changes and for weeks everyone is getting insulted and fighting back.
Some COs treat you really good, like they actually care about how you're doing. Others just look at it as a job.
If you break the rules they send you to your cell. Sometimes they put you on twenty-four-hour lock-down where you have to stay in your cell on your stool. You can't move, you can't read. You just sit there. They watch you through the window.
Sometimes they put you in the hole, in solitary. I just got out of solitary, just before I came down here to talk to you. Solitary cells have a metal bed with a thin mat and a horse blanket. There's a painted-over window in a cage, a metal toilet and a hatch in the door for the food tray.
There are six cells in the solitary wing. If there are three or more kids in the cells, a guard stays in the wing. If there are less than three, a guard comes in to check on you every half hour. If you don't talk to them, they won't talk to you.
You're in there all the time. You can have a Bible and sometimes other books, but nothing else. The longest I've done in solitary is a month. I thought I was going crazy.
I hit two guards. That's why they threw me in there this last time.
I think I'll be institutionalized when I get out of here. I can cook, but only a little. I don't know anything about how to conduct my life, like how to use a bank, things like that. I'm going to have to catch up.
I don't feel like I'm a part of any society. Not Native society, not Canadian society. Nothing. I'm a person on the outside.