Newspaper article The Canadian Press

First Nations Leaders Tell Inquiry Manitoba Girl's Death Due to 'Colonialism'

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

First Nations Leaders Tell Inquiry Manitoba Girl's Death Due to 'Colonialism'

Article excerpt

Inquiry hears girl's death due to 'colonialism'

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WINNIPEG - Manitoba aboriginal leaders say the death of a five-year-old girl at the hands of her guardians was the result of centuries of colonialism in Canada.

Jay Funke, lawyer representing the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Southern Chiefs Organization, told an inquiry looking into the death of Phoenix Sinclair that the child-welfare practice of seizing native children is seen by many aboriginals as an extension of the residential school system.

"First Nation leaders maintain that these separation practices have also contributed to the grim socio-economic reality confronting many First Nation families and children throughout Manitoba," Funke told Commissioner Ted Hughes during closing submissions Wednesday.

"This reality includes deep and protracted poverty, disproportionate rates of incarceration and criminal lifestyles, substance abuse, mental health challenges, infant and early mortality and -- all too frequently -- tragic deaths."

First Nations make up just under 15 per cent of the Manitoba population, but 85 per cent of the 9,700 children in care are aboriginal.

The impact of colonial practices continues to be felt by native people and helps explain the disproportionate number of aboriginal children in care, Funke said.

"First Nation leaders believe that the tragedy suffered by Phoenix was, in large part, the result of centuries of colonial-based policies and practices which have been forced upon the First Nations people of Canada," he said.

Phoenix spent much of her short life bouncing in and out of care, but was always returned to her mother, despite allegations of abuse.

The girl died in 2005 on the cold basement floor of her family's home on the Fisher River reserve after withstanding repeated tortuous abuse which broke virtually every bone in her body.

She was buried in a shallow grave near the community's garbage dump while her mother, Samantha Kematch, continued to collect child subsidy cheques. …

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