My Story of Domestic Violence and Child Apprehension

I was abused by my ex partner, who is also my children’s father, for ten and a half years. I had four children with him - Angela, Rosalie, Mike, and Jackson. I was beat all throughout my first pregnancy, and as a result my girl Angela was born a month early. She did not develop properly and was born with her heart on the right side of her body. She was a Mother’s Day baby, born on May 13, 1973 at 5 lbs 11 ounces. I named her Angela Michelle because she looked just like an angel. She only lived to the age of 16 and died on January 17, 1990 in Prince George.

It is for her and in her memory that I tell this story.

You might be wondering why I stayed in a violent relationship for that long? I grew up without a dad and was often called a ‘bastard’. I was always taunted with sayings such as: “Do you even know who your dad is?” It hurt a lot to be bullied and I did not want my own children to go through the same experience. So I silently suffered the abuse. At the time I did not realize that is was equally bad, if not worse, for my children to witness the violence of their father beating up their own mother.

I tell this story for the women who are still in abusive relationships so that they will have the courage to get out. Anyone who controls you and physically and emotionally hurts you does not love you. We have to understand that violence against women is always unacceptable, and as Native women, we are five times more likely than other women to die as the result of violence.

I became an alcoholic while I was in the relationship. The alcohol would numb the pain of being beaten; it would numb me for when he got home in the evenings so I could tolerate all the kicks and punches; it would numb me against his false accusations of me cheating on him when he was the one cheating on me with other women.

As a result of my drinking, the Ministry of Child and Family Development (MCFD) became involved in my children’s lives. I had several visits from MCFD over the years and they told me to stop drinking and to get counseling, but I could not stop drinking. They also told me to leave my ex-partner, but I had nowhere to go. For years, MCFD kept apprehending my children. Sometimes they would take my children away for a few weeks; sometimes it was for a few months.

Then in December 1981, in a surprise visit, MCFD workers came to my home. I was not home, but my children’s father was supposed to be home. However he had left them alone in the house and the upstairs neighbour called MCFD. MCFD apprehended my children, this time seeking a permanent order. That meant that my young children, ages 1-5, were going to essentially be kidnapped from me forever.

I broke down and started drinking even more heavily. I felt that if I did not have my children, then I had nothing to live for and would rather drink myself to death. One night in March 1982 I drank so much that I felt my heart was going to stop. That night I decided that I did not actually want to die an alcoholic and that I had to fight for my children.

I quit drinking cold-turkey. I went for alcohol counseling at the Native Courtworkers Society and also enrolled at Native Education Society to get my GED. I finally left my partner. After a few months I was able to get 2-hour supervised visits with my children every 6-8 weeks, but only after I appealed the decision by MCFD to deny me visits entirely.

After I won my right to supervised visits, I decided to appeal MCFD’s decision to apprehend my children permanently. I did not even know that I could appeal this decision until I was informed by an advocate at Native Courtworkers that I could. I realized that MCFD had not informed me of my basic legal rights as a parent and did not actually care to fulfill their responsibility and mandate to keep families together. I felt that as a survivor of violence and as a Native woman, I was being re-victimized by being labeled as a bad mother who was unable to protect her children.

After four years of fighting in the Court system, I finally won my case and my children were given back to me in 1986. Throughout the four years I often felt like giving up but I knew I had to fight for my family. The MCFD social worker reported to the Court that I was ‘not showing love and affection’ to my children. But the Court-ordered psychologist determined that there was lots of affection between us and said that it was clear that my children wanted to come back home. I thank Dr. Diane Mitchell for helping me win my case by recommending that my children be returned. It is frustrating though that we have to rely on these professionals to validate us.

The whole system of child apprehension is grossly unfair and unjust. From my experience and those of other women I know, it seems that the Ministry is interested in keeping children in the foster system rather than returning them to their parents. Most of the children in MCFD’s custody are Native children. In BC, Native children are 6.3 times more likely to be removed from their homes than non-Native children. I believe this is both a continuation of the residential school experience - where children are torn away from their families and communities are destroyed - as well as a consequence of residential schools, which has forced Native families into social dysfunction with rampant alcohol/drug use and abuse in the home. I feel like the odds are stacked against us, but still we continue on.

I am now 29 years sober and my three beautiful children – Rosalie and Michael and Jackson – are parents themselves. Once I had my children back, I told my boys to never hit a woman because it is like hitting your mother. I still live with the guilt about what happened to my deceased daughter Angela. I also felt responsible when my other daughter Rosalie was in an abusive relationship worse than mine. I felt that she thought it was okay to be abused because she watched me take it. But now my daughter Rosalie is happy and has a beautiful 8-year old daughter named Kayla. My son Michael is 31 years old and has been clean from heroin for several years now. He is working and has a 2-year old daughter named Tayla. My youngest son Jackson is 30 years old and recently graduated from the Academy of Learning. He has a wonderful 10-month baby girl named Gianna. I am so proud of my children and thank the Creator for every new day. Love to all my family and friends.

B. has lived in Vancouver for 35 years. She is from Bella Bella. She is currently 29 years sober and volunteers at the Downtown Eastside Womens’ Centre. She loves being part of the DTES Power of Women Group because the group fights for everything she has been through – from violence and abuse to child apprehension – and gives her a voice! She also marches in the February 14th Womens’ Memorial March Committee for her murdered sister and niece.

Recently, B. was in the hospital for two months due to double pneumonia. She went through surgery for her right lung on December 28, 2010. She feels lucky to be alive and would like to thank all her family and friends for their prayers and visits, which meant a lot to her.

This story is part of the Downtown Eastside Power of Women “In Our Own Voices” writing project. For more information and to read more stories, please visit the: DTES Power of Women Group Website

B. Photo by Joe Philipson

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