'Maybe this would have never happened,' says Gameti, N.W.T., family ahead of testifying at MMIWG hearings
In 2009, Alice Black was killed in the family home by her common-law spouse
Lucy Black says she "cries and cries every day" for her daughter, Alice Black.
At 31, Alice was beaten to death by her common-law spouse in the family home, where Lucy, her husband Joe Black, and some of their grandchildren still live today in Gameti, N.W.T., a Tlicho fly-in community of roughly 300, located about 240 kilometres north of Yellowknife
"When somebody dies all of a sudden, the experience is absolutely traumatic," said Joe speaking in Tlicho. He sits at the kitchen table, close to his wife. "The grieving time is beyond comprehension."
At least four people saw portions of the violent fight between Alice and Terry Vital on Feb. 27, 2009. One person called a nurse at the community's health centre after Alice was found moaning on the kitchen floor.
But the nurse didn't come that night. According to an agreed statement of facts laid out in Vital's court case, the nurse refused to enter the house because violence and alcohol were involved.
RCMP weren't present either. There isn't a detachment in the community, so officers didn't show up until after Alice died.
Now, nearly nine years after Alice's death, as the Black family prepares to testify in Yellowknife before the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, they continue to grieve for the loss of the woman who was a sister, daughter, mother and friend — and question what could have been done to possibly prevent her death.
What could have been different?
Julian Black, 21, the oldest of Alice's seven children, and his siblings were apprehended by child and family services when they were young.
Most of the children were placed with families outside the community. Julian was one of two placed with his grandparents, Lucy and Joe, in Gameti.
Even though he doesn't remember a lot about his mother, he says he still misses her.
"I go there [to Alice's grave] to pay my respects and just talk with her to say how I am doing," he said.
Julian, like many in his family, still thinks about the day his mother passed away. He was in Behchoko with his grandparents. Alice and Vital stayed in Gameti that weekend, something Lucy says she advised against.
"It seemed to me there was some tension and I sensed there was something wrong," Lucy said.
"I tried to convince her to come with us, but to no avail."
Lucy says she looks back on Alice's relationship with Vital and wonders what she could have done differently.
She says Alice never told her the relationship was violent — and she says she and her husband, Joe, never saw any violence either, but she recalls one night before Alice's death when there was a warrant out for Vital's arrest in connection to assault charges. RCMP showed up at the Black's family home. Vital was hiding upstairs, and even though everyone knew he was up there, including Alice, they didn't say anything to police.
"Maybe if they had gone upstairs, and arrested him, maybe this would have never happened," Lucy said.
No RCMP detachment in Gameti
Alice's sister Louisa says better support systems in Gameti could have made a difference.
"I think the system failed to protect my late sister," she said
Three years ago, the territorial government halted its plans to build an RCMP detachment in the community.
According to the department of justice, in 2015 RCMP started tracking the number of patrols its out-of-community members make to Gameti. That year, there were 112 calls to RCMP from people in the community. RCMP patrolled the community 38 times that year.
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In 2016, there were 107 calls for service and 33 patrols. It's not clear how long each patrol is or how frequent they are.
The department says the placement of detachments is based on a number of things, including calls for service from the public, remoteness, population, officer safety and crime rates.
It costs between $7.5 and $10 million to build an RCMP detachment, according to the department.
After Alice's death, the YWCA created a pilot project to try and make isolated communities safer for women in the territory, including Gameti.
Facilitators reported that over three years and many gatherings with women, they observed a resounding fear about discussing family violence.
The project ended in 2012. A review concluded that women benefited, but it couldn't prove they were any safer.
The Department of Health and Social Services says it is now partnering with the Tlicho Community Services Agency to develop a protocol for family violence, which would include having specific people in the communities who can be called upon when a woman is experiencing domestic violence.
'They stayed away when my sister needed help'
Louisa still thinks having dedicated, full-time officers in the community could have saved her sister's life.
"Basically the local people or whoever [was] responding didn't want to get involved and they stayed away when my sister needed help," she said.
Vital was convicted of assaulting Alice in 1999 and 2004. He was also sentenced to 12 months in jail in 1999 for assault causing bodily harm related to an incident in which his nine-month-old son suffered numerous broken bones and multiple fractured ribs.
Vital served seven years for manslaughter in connection to Alice's death.
With files from John Gon and Kate Kyle