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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

They came in the night

BY Xavier Kataquapit Oct 27, 2021

I experienced a theft of an array of tools from the back of my truck a few weeks ago. I had left things in the truck overnight because I had planned to leave early the next morning. I do my best to be careful to put away valuable items in a safe place, but I was a little careless on that night. 

I discovered the robbery late the next day when I went to fetch some tools and noticed that they were not in the truck. I was confused as to why someone would want to rob me. I don’t have an incredibly expensive collection or fancy possessions, but it took a lot of time, effort and expense for me to gather all those tools and items over the years. 

The experience made me think of an important life lesson I learned earlier. It has to do with the realization that people do bad things because they feel that they no longer have a choice, that their lives no longer matter and that they feel that the only way to get ahead in this world is to take what they can. People end up in dire straits for many reasons. In extreme cases of addiction, one no longer cares what they do as their only focus is in getting enough material together to sell, get some cash and buy their next hit. 

I grew up in Attawapiskat First Nation on the James Bay coast and I witnessed the downfall of many lives due to addictions. My dad Marius worked as a general contractor building and renovating in the community in order to support our family. My brothers and I were apprentices of many trades under the direction of our father. Back then, we kept a large supply of tools for our work, and it was a regular occurrence they would disappear. 

The saddest thefts we experienced were during cold winter nights when desperate people would steal firewood from our log pile. Dad would never go after these people though we often knew who they were. Instead, we would offer to help. Mom and dad had seen enough desperation in the remote North and knew that when people were left with next to nothing that they would resort to desperate actions. They understood how a family could end up with no wood for their stove during -40º temperatures. 

I never really could put to words the lessons my parents taught me about why people do bad things until I read a passage in Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Miserables: “If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who causes the darkness.” 

Martin Luther King Jr. used this same quote to describe the reality of Black America during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. He argued that crime was rampant in Black America because “the policy makers of the white society had caused the darkness.” 

That’s why I hesitated when my partner and I decided to turn to the Ontario Provincial Police detachment in Kirkland Lake to report the theft. Soon after my call, several young police officers showed up to gather information on the theft. I was surprised at the respectful, kind and caring way these young officers showed us. Sadly, I think many of us have based our idea of policing on outdated realities and I was pleasantly surprised to see a new culture of young police officers at work. 

I have travelled to many parts of the world, and I have realized that a police force is only as good as the government in control of them. Happily, we live in a democracy where our police forces for the most part are held accountable to the public they serve. That is a big deal. As we develop as a democracy, one day we may have a country that is more equitable, better educated and well cared for. I see that hope in the young officers I met after the theft. 

We need to work to make our society as fair and progressive as we can so that our young police officers have fewer tragic issues to deal with and the reality of desperate people with no hope and suffering from addictions is diminished. That is what you call a win-win situation.They came in the night

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Xavier Kataquapit is Cree from Attawapiskat First Nation on the James Bay coast. He is a writer and columnist who has written about his life and Indigenous issues since 1998.