Opinion — Wanted in connection to murder: two angelic, teen kids from good homes

Jessica Iron is an Indigenous writer whose column appears monthly in the Daily Herald.

Jessica Iron, Herald Contributor

I’m sure most of Canada is watching the developing story of Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky. I hope they do the right thing and turn themselves in, but only time will tell.
In the meantime, I want to focus on the portrayal of these two men in the media.

My oldest son is the same age as McLeod — 19. I would hope my son wasn’t cruel enough to do something so horrific, or I would be leading the manhunt, not waiting at home for the police to find him. I wouldn’t stop until he was apprehended.

But, being First Nations, he probably wouldn’t be apprehended. There would likely be a violent showdown to end this story.

In any case, if he were to make the news for such crimes, the first thing that would be mentioned would be that he is from Canoe Lake Cree Nation. It would be right up there, beside his name, in bold letters — the big flashing “Indian” sign.

I know this because this is what is always done when a First Nations person is wanted for anything. I vividly recall as a teenager hearing on the radio or television about people, wanted in connection to crimes, who were always listed as belonging to such and such first nation.

This was particularly true for underage criminals, where their age prevented the release of their names. But there it would be, the name of their first nation, so that all of us wondering would know that the Very Bad Kid was an Indian. It was often cleverly disguised as in: “The youth cannot be identified because of their age, but they will be staying with family at Such and Such First Nation until their court date.” Isn’t that crazy? It was super obvious to me even as a teenager. Twenty years later, not much has changed.

For those who detest the word Indian, I’m using it for its full derogatory effect here. My beautiful friends from India are exempt from this because the slur is only intended when the word is applied to First Nations people.

So, next to my son’s first nation, which would be mentioned in every single update, would be a photo of him—the darker his skin, the better, so that even illiterate people would know that he was First Nations. Luckily my son is super dark to begin with, so those photos would be easy to find.

Naturally we wouldn’t want him to be smiling, but if he were partying, smoking something or drinking something, maybe even carrying a weapon that would add to the “dangerous Indian on the loose” effect. Bonus points if he had tattoos or piercings in the photo.

Also, he wouldn’t be considered a teenager at nineteen. He would be called a man, which is exactly how he would be tried in a court of law. Several articles have called McLeod and Schmegelsky teenagers, although both are legally adults. This error would never happen with an Indigenous man. Perhaps it is never an error though, which is precisely what I’m suggesting.

There would also be a total absence of background stories on what a “normal”, “happy”, “good” and “funny” kid he is. Or photos of him smiling. Even if my dark-skinned, First Nation son was an award-winning, overachiever no one would know because all that would be told would be incidents of his past where he made mistakes, playing into racial stereotypes.

Of course, not all reporters and media outlets have taken this approach to McLeod and Schmegelsky. I’ve learned of Schmegelsky’s nazi fascination also, which is obviously very disturbing. So far their victims haven’t appeared to be targeted by race, but seemed to be crimes of opportunity.

This whole storyline is reminiscent of our neighbors to the south and the “good” white kids who shoot groups of people in churches, mosques, malls, theatres, etc. But if a black kid puts his hand in his pocket, he gets be shot on site.

I really hope no one else is hurt or killed on this tragic manhunt, including these two men, and that they are safely apprehended very soon.

However, their crimes aren’t the only injustices of this past week. These very overt examples of racism continue to exist and perpetuate totally different narratives that have nothing to do with guilt or innocence, but rather perpetuate a great racial divide in Canada.

Cut it out, mainstream media. Please keep your stories fair and objective.