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Contestants at the Quaaout Pow wow during the summer of 2000
CONTRIBUTION · 23rd April 2012
Merv Ritchie
It was the summer of 2000. Just outside of Chase, BC at the Little Shuswap lands near to the Quaaout Lodge was a Native Pow Wow ceremony. It was a full weekend long ceremony of dancing and drumming. Tipis and tents were set up, motor homes and campers, a circle of vendors and an open stage surrounding. The drumming continued into the late hours well past midnight and the morning was filled with cups of coffee, pancakes and the smell of bacon wafting in the air. Then the singing, dancing and drumming started all over again. It was a competition and a celebration. Native bands and singing groups arrived from all across Western Canada and the USA.

In the late 1970's and early 1980's I had lived in a Tipi in the Rocky Mountains as well as in the Prairies. During this weekend of the Pow Wow, Friday to Sunday, I had my two children for their every second weekend access visit. It was my daughter's 8th birthday and this was going to be a birthday she wouldn’t forget. The Little Shuswap Indian Band had Tipi's available for rent and that is what we did; rented a Tipi for the weekend.

We must have looked like the Beverley Hillbillies as we drove up in my Audi Quaatro with mattresses and gear stacked 3 feet high on the roof. I knew the Tipi would be just canvas and poles on a bare gravel surface so I loaded up everything I could to make this space home for three days. Chairs, tables, tarps, lamps, blankets and more. There were four of us and I wanted this to be the best birthday ever.

I remember watching the people look at us as we drove up and started to set up in the Tipi. I can still hear it in my head, "stupid white man", or some such thing like, "Oh, another white family wanting to be like us Indians!"

But the Tipi was great. Sleeping in the clean open air, listening to the late night drumming, it was an experience like no other.

Both my son and daughter were welcomed and danced in the circle. My girl would come back to the Tipi laughing and then run back and dance again. My boy danced too but was more reserved, like a young elder, observing.

We walked around day and night talking to all the performers and venders. A family of four welcomed as one of their own after days of dancing and celebration. Then we had to pack and go home. It was an almost depressing moment as the packing began and we drove home. The weekend was over and the children had to go home to their mothers. My daughter however was set to go visit her grandmother in Victoria, all on her own. She was almost a grown up young lady. She was only 8 but she was confident and secure.

Grandma was an Oak Bay Queen of sorts. She grew up in the most exclusive of homes and in the most exclusive of environments. Her parents had food catered in and they never did their own laundry. Both were of the highest ranking families of the new British empire founded in Victoria BC. He was President of the Victoria Golf Club, the club the highest members of British Columbia's political and legal professions attended and were members with. He was also a founder and owner of a Securities firm which eventual partnered with the Royal Bank. Her mom’s family was closely associated with the Dominion Bank of Canada. These were the unknown elite of BC.

My daughter arrived at Grandma's home beaming, thrilled, dancing like an Indian, happy and joyful about the party weekend in the Tipi she had just had with her Papa. Grandma was horrified.

The telephone lines between Victoria and the Shuswap burned hot, day and night for the next week. How dare you let these children hang around Indians? We cannot allow this to continue, you must get full custody now, and I will not permit this!

My daughter immediately began developing migraine headaches. They would wake her in tears in the middle of the night. First it was blamed on her eyesight and she was prescribed glasses, which she never needed. Much later it was blamed on divorce stress.

Grandma drove her back home to the Shuswap from Victoria personally; arriving on a Sunday evening. Monday the lawyers were engaged to file custody papers. My daughter’s mother was struggling to follow her own mothers (grandmas) instructions. By Wednesday the stress of the demands reached a peak. My children were fighting and their mother simply lost her cool. She couldn't hit Grandma to release her frustrations so she grabbed the children by the wrists. But she was mad, angry and out of control of her own life (being told what to do by her mother) and needed a release. So she curled her fingernails into my girl’s eight year old wrists and squeezed, ripping the skin and burying her long sharp fingernails deep. Blood spurted out. She was doing the same thing to my boy but didn’t squeeze his wrist quite so hard. The excruciating headaches continued.

It was 5:30 pm, Wednesday, August 30th, 2000, and I was in my cabin on top of the hill. I had built this small cabin by myself, by hand. It was cute, quaint and had a small bedroom loft. The children’s bedroom was first a small bunk room cubby hole and then I built an addition so they could each have their own small room. I'm not sure what I was doing at the time but my girlfriend, who was quite spiritually connected, told me I needed to call my boy right away. She was adamant, something was wrong, I needed to call. So I did. My children’s mother answered.

Up to that point we had a very good relationship, considering we were separated. We could call and make arrangements for the kids without much trouble. Truthfully, when she was experiencing her cycle it was clearly more difficult, but on average it wasn't too terrible a separation. She had a new boyfriend and I had reunited with my girlfriend from twenty three years earlier.

I asked to speak with my boy. She was frantic on the phone, almost yelling at me. “No you can't speak to him. They’re busy.”

“Excuse me; I’d really like to speak with him if I could.”

“No!” And then she abruptly hung up. I was shocked. She hadn’t ever behaved like that before, even in a bad time of the month.

Friday came and it was once again our time with the children. My girlfriend just loved this. She pampered the kids like crazy. They loved her too. One time my daughter got my girlfriend to stand in the hallway in the cabin and then got me to stand beside her. She then asked my son if he was ready. He said yes and proceeded to pick up the back tip of my girlfriends dress and she began, "Do you Papa, take Moon to be your wife." It was cute and loving. She would softly brush my daughter’s long flowing hair and then spend hours braiding it though her Mom had it cut off to stop that bonding time.

That Friday evening my daughter had a bath, and just like always my girlfriend helped. She came to me later and asked me not to be alarmed. She knew me well and cautioned me that if I reacted I might cause more harm than good. She described the deep festering wounds she saw in my daughter’s wrist. She told me how she asked her about it and was told Mom got mad. It happened just when she had asked me to call the previous Wednesday, somehow knowing something was wrong with the children. Moon then put Polysporin on them as they were still raw. We let it go until the next day. I couldn’t do anything anyways.

The children’s mother had always been a violent person. She would scream and yell, backhand, slap and even at one time threw my daughter across the room when my daughter stubbed her toe as she walked passed her. When my daughter spilled a bottle of cough syrup in the bedroom she shared with my son their mother destroyed the dresser the bottle had been sitting on. In front of the two children she kicked the bottom drawer so violently that it splintered and took the top drawer out and broke it over her knee.

One might say I was a weak man to not take action but I did and was never able to stop it. I spoke with our family doctor at one point and he prescribed Prozac for her to take at the onset of her cycle. She would forget until she flipped out and recognized her anger. She might then take it.

I took pictures the next day without either child knowing I was zoomed in and focusing on the injuries. I then decided I needed to do something to protect them from these outbursts. I contacted a lawyer, a couple doctors and discovered if I wanted to protect them I would need to get the Ministry of Children and families involved. I didn’t want that and decided to wait for the lawyer route.

Little did I know the Queen of Oak Bay Grandmother was in full swing with lawyers to get full custody. Papers were served to me at my work place in Salmon Arm while I was attempting to set up an appointment with my own lawyer.

Tens of thousands of dollars were spent on legal fees, not by me, but by the multi million dollar wealth of Grandmas family. Legal connections and the hierarchy of the Victoria Oak Bay and Golf Club crowd had me sidelined at every turn.

At one point her lawyer selected and hired a Child Psychologist, the best in BC, Dr, MacKenzie-Elliot to perform what is called a Section 15 Report. This was to determine an independent analysis for the best interests of the children. He found and determined the children needed immediate protection from their mother and that the father (me) should have full custody. For less than one week, I had custody.

Grandma then had that lawyer fired and used her influence to have my own lawyer, Danny Carroll, stand down from the lawsuit and let his boss, Kristian Jensen, go into court on my behalf. Jensen barely argued on behalf of the children. The highest ranking lawyer, the top dog of the firm, let the master of the court, Groves, make his own legal arguments and let him direct the arguments of the children’s mothers new lawyer, the one paid for by Grandma. When she wasn’t saying the right things Groves interrupted her and redirected her to say what he wanted to hear.

Jensen sat back and let the charade go on. The new lawyer even started telling stories that was not in any evidence or affidavit, it was a free for all and no one was stopping it. I was portrayed as a manipulative violent person and Jensen just let it go almost completely unchallenged. In fact he spoke less than one seventh of the total time compared to the other lawyer. The child Psychologists report was disregarded and I was said to have even manipulated him.

Needless to say I haven’t seen my children for many years.

Today, 12 years later, I still struggle to have some contact and relationship with my children.

They believe I left them, when at the foundation of everything was the pure hatred of Indians. Grandma, the Queen of white Victoria, the daughter and granddaughter of those who associated with the people who ensured most of the Indian population of BC died of small pox and other diseases in residential schools. She could not stand the thought of her own grandchildren associating with such vermin. When my daughter arrived and spoke excitedly about dancing with the Indians one can only imagine the outrage Grandma experienced. One can only imagine what she said that drove my daughters mind to immediately begin suffering migraines.

And these people, those with this same hateful mindset, live among us today. We must stand on guard and always be aware. Hatred provokes wars and wars are death and destruction. My family was destroyed; don’t let it happen to yours too. One whisper of bigotry demands an immediate shout out of retribution. The only intolerance should by the intolerance of bigotry and racism.

While working in Salmon Arm I encountered a construction site at lunch break and sat with the work crew. The foreman began spouting off racial insults about black people. As far as he was concerned they were low life scum of the earth. I and all the other guys sat silent. I was representing a company and felt I needed to keep my mouth shut. I imagine the workers wanted to keep their jobs, but the discomfort of many was evident.

I have since quit jobs and openly chastised everyone who dares exhibit racist attitudes. I hired a local man who openly stated ‘We beat the Indians before (referring to his white race) and we’ll kill em all again if we have too.’ He never entered my office again.

Anyone who believes racism is a thing of the past is deluded. It is currently terrorizing many today. The effects are generational. We must be proactive in making it the most despicable mindset. It is everyone’s civic and moral duty to shun and refuse to associate with anyone exhibiting this character trait. Never would I wish anyone’s children or family to suffer what mine went through, all due to the bigotry of one person. My children have yet to come to terms with it over twelve years later. Maybe one day they will read this and begin to understand.

As for the Pow Wow, it remains the last best memory I have of the time with my children. After that the trauma created by the Grandmothers hatred of everything Indian poisoned every visit. Nothing was free and easy after that; everything became a court measured tactic. And that is how hating Indians destroyed my family. I doubt the mind set in Victoria is much different than it was prior to 1900, it is just better concealed.
My own Tipi near Fording Coal a few miles from the peaks of the Rockies in 1979
My own Tipi near Fording Coal a few miles from the peaks of the Rockies in 1979
Near to Nelson, BC in the winter.  A comfortable home.
Near to Nelson, BC in the winter. A comfortable home.
My heart goes out to your children and you
Comment by Czar on 3rd May 2012
Thanks for sharing your bittersweet experience. Many of us have had experiences such as yours - it is never easy to report them. My ex-spouse did things similarly to my children. My youngest was alienated from me, but came back to me at 15 after living with his other parent. We had a tough two years helping get him turned around from failing grades to a grade 12 student who will graduate with honors this year!

Have hope that things will get better, because they usually do. There are many of us who empathize having had similar experiences.

I'm appreciative to hear of your openness to having your children enjoy cultural experiences other than their own.
Rudi.
Comment by Janice Robinson on 29th April 2012
Whose intolerance do you find intolerable, Ms. Hurdell or Mr. Ritchie?

Mr. Ritchie shared a personal story with his readership. Ms. Hurdell responded to it.

Racism is a mental illness expressing itself, just like physical bumps, rashes, and seeping lesions may be viruses expressing themselves. Racists and viruses do not bother us, until they are brought forth among surrounding humanity....and then, it is all bad. Both are contagious, and both are intolerable.
The Price of a free society
Comment by Mr. Peters on 28th April 2012
In a society were we value the freedom to express our viewpoints, however distasteful you may find them, we will have this occurring. If you wish to not see this you would need to produce an Orwellian type of society were everything including thought is controlled by the state.

I find your intolerance of people's intolerances to be intolerant.
Applauds
Comment by S. Hurdell on 27th April 2012
For standing up for what you believe in. I don't know many who do these days but anyone who knows me, knows I'm opinionated. I recall telling this grandmother who lost contact with her grandchildren because of divorce that he granchildren will never forget her no matter how much brainwashing goes on.
Children are resilient and have very good memories. When life goes bad for them they hold on to any shred of decency they can remember and I pray your children search for you so they can get their heads on right because I have seen so often where children don't like what a parent does but when they get older, they follow in their footstep. Helping them to deal with that anger will need lots of love.
Strong is the man who stands up for what he believes in even when the whole world turns against him <3