Death and despair no stranger to Pauingassi's bullies
The nine-year-old was born on Halloween to a 15-year-old mother who drank during her unplanned pregnancy, leaving him with fetal alcohol syndrome, a short attention span and an even shorter fuse. The seven-year-old doesn't know where his father is, has a mother currently hospitalized in Winnipeg for diabetes and already has several siblings in the care of Child and Family Services while he is raised by his grandparents.
The eight-year-old has already seen his 13-year-old sister get arrested and held at the Manitoba Youth Centre for allegedly being involved in the brutal beating death of a young woman on this remote reserve back in May. Sad pictures are beginning to emerge of the three Pauingassi boys who RCMP say were behind one of Manitoba's most shocking cases of bullying.
Adam Keeper, 6, was stripped naked and drowned in a lake last week, unable to swim after being pushed off a rocky embankment into deep water. He was buried Tuesday. A respected community leader -- who spoke candidly to the Free Press Wednesday on the condition of anonymity -- said one of the biggest problems on the reserve is that so many people who lack the ability or desire to parent, are having children. "But it's not as if you can tell a family to go and get a (birth control) shot or have their tubes tied," he said.
"People want to blame CFS, blame the leadership, blame poverty... But you don't always need more money to solve a problem. You just need people to start caring, to have a focus." All three boys, along with their families, have had contact with CFS but were in living arrangements deemed suitable by the agency. "It's a situation where you're damned if you do, damned if you don't. By placing some of these kids outside the community, they can be more at risk. At least in the community they're visible," the leader said.
He said young children have also been exposed to far too much death and appear desensitized by it. There have been several killings and suicides in recent years, including a man who was hit in the head with an ax last August. His grave is directly beside Adam's. "When that happened, you had tons of kids just playing nearby, like it was nothing," he said. He said aboriginal people often don't show or express their emotions and quickly move on, with little reflection, following the death of a loved one. Grave sites are scattered throughout the reserve, home to 450 residents, including in people's backyards. Numerous graves are overgrown by thick weeds and have clearly been neglected for years. "You hear talk about kids being influenced by what they see on TV, or in movies. But they don't get that here. They learn from what is actually happening around them. They've all seen the violence," the leader said. "Just look around. Everyone has a scar on their face, or on their body. They have broken teeth, a crooked nose, something. There aren't many people who die around here of natural causes or old age."
Nicholas Fisher, the lone band constable in Pauingassi, said the three boys who are accused of killing Keeper originally denied any contact with him during an interview last week. "But when the RCMP interviewed those kids, their stories changed," said Fisher. Witnesses had placed the trio with Adam in the time just before he went missing, he said. Harvey Owen, Adam's father, told the Free Press Wednesday he believes there will be more violence if the boys are allowed to return to the reserve. The boys were flown to Winnipeg Tuesday morning to receive counselling from the Southeast Tribal Child and Family Services. It's unknown when they will return. RCMP are unable to lay criminal charges because they are too young. "I don't want what happened to my son to happen again. If they come back, it could happen again," Owen said.
Owen and his wife, Rosalie Keeper, say the nine-year-old boy had previously bullied Adam by hitting and punching him and making him cry. "He's a loner. He doesn't have any friends," a longtime Pauingassi resident said Wednesday. "The kid doesn't listen to a lot of people. And most of the kids who hang around with him get into trouble. They'll go smash windows and break into abandoned houses," said another. The boy's mother, now 25, currently lives in Bloodvein First Nation and doesn't have custody of him. He had been living with his 30-year-old father and grandparents, who flew with him to Winnipeg this week.
One uncle is a security guard at the local nursing station, while another is a reformed solvent abuser who recently completed high school in Winnipeg at the age of 23 and now does carpentry on the reserve. The eight-year-old boy was living with both parents, who have joined him in the city. His father works as a local contact for probation services, helping to check up on people in the community currently under court orders. His teen sister, another youth and an adult co-accused have been charged with manslaughter for the death of 22-year-old Stephanie Pascal. They are presumed innocent while their cases remain before the courts. The mother of the seven-year-old boy was flown by air ambulance to Winnipeg a couple of weeks ago because she developed complications from diabetes. His father has never been in the picture, leaving him to be watched by his 60-year-old grandmother and 50-year-old grandfather. He also makes occasional trips to Winnipeg to visit his siblings who are in CFS care.