The Lost Children of Pleasant Hill Park

Commentary, Aboriginal Futures, Brian Giesbrecht

An Indigenous woman, accompanied by her ten year old daughter, was swarmed and beaten by a group of children at Saskatoon’s Pleasant Hill Park on May 8, 2019. Having seen a group of children throwing rocks at an elderly man, she was ignored when she asked them to stop. When she began to film the incident the group – mainly boys under twelve, plus one girl, aged thirteen – attacked her. The children then ran off laughing, leaving the woman bruised and shaken. 

The incident was also filmed by an African man who didn’t intervene. Later, he explained he didn’t intervene because he was concerned that doing so might jeopardize his immigration status.  His video, replayed on various news outlets, suggests the children were all Indigenous. The boys could not be charged, being under twelve, but the thirteen year old girl was charged, along with another assault that had occurred in the park on an earlier date. 

This was not the first time that groups of children have caused trouble in Pleasant Hill Park. People living in the vicinity recalled better times when the park was seen as a safe refuge. Not now: neighbors report frequently witnessing groups of unsupervised children causing trouble. They feel helpless as to what to do – police and child welfare personnel have been unable to do much.

This latest incident is profoundly disturbing. However, there has not been any sign of widespread outrage, nor of demands that the parents of the swarming gang of children be found and held responsible for their children’s outrageous and shocking behaviour. The local reaction seems to view the incident as just another of many incidents of lawless behaviour by unsupervised children.

For those living in a prairie city like Saskatoon, with many troubled First Nations reserves in the vicinity, it appears that most residents just assume that truant children come from the Indigenous underclass. (Cities like Saskatoon have sizeable Indigenous populations, mainly drawn from surrounding reserves. Many people go back and forth between their reserve and the city, with no fixed address nor employment.)

Although there is a growing successful Indigenous urban middle class, composed of academics, professionals, and working people, there remains a large marginalized Indigenous underclass that is not doing well at all (particularly in cities like Regina, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Thompson, and Thunder Bay). This underclass has endemic criminal and child welfare problems.

The fact that these particular ‘lost children’ are Indigenous is an important part of this story. Furthermore, it is significant that the fact that the swarming children are Indigenous was not mentioned in any of the written reports or broadcasts of the Pleasant Hill Park incident. It seems the media has forgotten or discarded how to report crimes when those involved are Indigenous, unless the report could include a sympathetic angle.  

Nobody in the public eye  – politicians included – tells it as it is, because of very real worries  that any negative mention of Indigenous involvement will be viewed as racism.

It must be emphasized that the victim of the Pleasant Hill assault was an Indigenous woman. Imagine the outraged response of the media if the offending children had been non-Indigenous. In that case, the swarming of a mother with her child in a park would have been a national story, perhaps with calls for an inquiry. But because the offending children were Indigenous, the ‘beating’ simply became yet another terrible frustrating incident – no one having a clue as to what to do.

There have not been calls in the media for the parents of the offending children to be held accountable. Why? Because it is assumed that their parents (often just a single mother) have multiple problems of their own, and are having a hard time looking after their own life, much less keeping tabs on their children. 

There is a ‘secret code’ in cities like Saskatoon – non-Indigenous residents discussing Indigenous issues, constantly in private,  knowing that candid public discussion of the topic is ‘impossible’.

The Saskatoon swarming event represents another sorry facet of the overall Indigenous child welfare problem – a problem so often published in the news in the western provinces. The reporting includes information about the thousands and thousands of Indigenous children that are ‘in care’, and, repeatedly, of yet another new government reorganization plan involving spending designed to magically solve the problem.

The reporting rarely tells the real story – Indigenous children are in care in overwhelmingly numbers because their parents have addiction issues. The reports fail to note that the number of children in care, though massive, represents only a fraction of the overall number of children taken from the ‘worst’ homes by government and Indigenous social workers. And, there are more Indigenous children in barely adequate homes – children like the ‘lost’ children of Pleasant Hill.

These particular ‘lost’ children may well swell the already depressing jail statistics when they become adults. In the future, some might be among the numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women we hear so much about now. And, for some of those that evade jail or a grave, they might well join the numbers of homeless people we walk by on our way to work.

The federal government spends unprecedented and enormous amounts of money on Indigenous issues – money that makes some people rich while doing much of nothing to help these children. Too often their chiefs further their own agendas, neglecting problems they supposedly were elected to tackle.

I feel sorry for the woman who was assaulted. Being swarmed in a park must have been a frightening ordeal for her and her ten year old daughter. Appearing to be a resilient person, the swarmed mother will likely recover.  However, it is those ‘lost’ children who so brazenly assaulted her that I feel the sorriest for. They don’t have a chance.