Trauma wounds

The Amherst News - - OPINION -

Al­most two weeks ago, Gary Christ­mas was given a sus­pended sen­tence and pro­ba­tion for three years, in a Syd­ney, N.S. court­room. He had pleaded guilty to pos­ses­sion for the pur­pose of traf­fick­ing of Per­co­cet and hy­dro­mor­phone pills.

The judge in the case wrote that there were clear signs that Christ­mas was a good can­di­date for re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, say­ing Christ­mas was in treat­ment and, “He ac­cepted re­spon­si­bil­ity. He apol­o­gized to the court and im­por­tantly, to his com­mu­nity. He showed re­morse. He said he was ashamed and ex­plained the ex­treme im­pact drugs had on his ac­tions.”

But what should be earth­shak­ing about the case is nei­ther the crime nor the pun­ish­ment.

It is Mr. Christ­mas’ life as an Abo­rig­i­nal male on a re­serve in Canada.

“Mr. Christ­mas ad­vised that he had his first sip of beer at 4-5 years of age and was reg­u­larly steal­ing al­co­hol and drugs from his par­ents at age 12. There was a lot of drinking and par­ty­ing in the house, leav­ing the chil­dren un­su­per­vised. … The lack of su­per­vi­sion also left Mr. Christ­mas vul­ner­a­ble to vic­tim­iza­tion from oth­ers in the com­mu­nity, which he ex­pe­ri­enced.”

Also part of the judge’s ver­dict? What Christ­mas has seen.

The judge wrote, “Christ­mas has suf­fered loss and ex­pe­ri­enced trauma from a young age:

“• When Mr. Christ­mas was 10 years old, he and friends went to a small fort they built near the Mem­ber­tou ball­field. Upon ar­riv­ing, they dis­cov­ered the body of Mr. Christ­mas’ cousin, who hung him­self.

“• When Mr. Christ­mas was 11 years old, that cousin’s brother shot him­self in the fam­ily home on the re­serve. Mr. Christ­mas again saw the body.

“• When Mr. Christ­mas was 12 years old, his un­cle was charged and con­victed of beating a man to death in his home, again on the re­serve.

“• When Mr. Christ­mas was 22 years of age, Mr. Christ­mas’ best friend was stabbed to death on the re­serve.

“• When Mr. Christ­mas was 23 years old, an­other cousin hung him­self in his home on the re­serve. They were de­scribed as like brothers and Mr. Christ­mas named his child af­ter this cousin.

“• Later that same year, in 2005, that cousin’s fa­ther killed him­self in the same spot.

“• Mr. Christ­mas at­tempted sui­cide in 2012. “• And Mr. Christ­mas’ part­ner has chil­dren with a for­mer part­ner. In 2014, that for­mer part­ner hung him­self. Mr. Christ­mas found him and cut him down.”

Gary Christ­mas is 35 years old.

The judge wrote: “It is hard to imag­ine an­other Cana­dian com­mu­nity in which this time­line would ex­ist, other than within a First Na­tion.”

How does any­one sur­vive that sort of ex­pe­ri­ence un­scathed?

You can­not even imag­ine walk­ing in his shoes. You can­not imag­ine your chil­dren walk­ing in his shoes.

But you could stop for a mo­ment and think about it, and think about what this coun­try has to do for all of its cit­i­zens to move for­wards.

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