Kenny’s mother was 36-years old when she gave birth. She had been through a series of short-term relationships and, with her current boyfriend, she drank heavily for the first few months of her pregnancy.
Kenny was born under-weight and a few weeks premature. In his early years he suffered a variety of health problems, partly due to his birth condition but also because of poor diet and living conditions. This was not something that Kenny’s mother had to worry about, though. Since she already had four children, Kenny was adopted-out to his grandparents. They had spent their early lives on the land, but in recent decades had turned to a life of social assistance and alcoholism. They were both nearing 60, and by the time Kenny was ten years old they were collecting their old-age pensions.
Kenny went to school enthusiastically for the first three grades. Then he started sleeping in. His grandparents were not particularly concerned, and made no real attempt to get him up in the morning. Besides, with the all-night drinking and card games in that house, Kenny could never get enough sleep and was allowed to wander the streets at all hours of the night. Social services became involved on several occasions, but simply returned him to his grandparents' home without further intervention.
His grandparents taught him nothing of his culture. They were too busy drinking, gambling and sleeping the day away. They never went out on the land, partly because of a lack of interest, but also because they had gambled away their snowmobile and camping equipment.
By age ten Kenny was not going to school at all. With great difficulty, he could print his own name, but he could neither read nor write, nor do simple arithmetic. He told his grandparents that kids at school "picked on" him so, without further ado, they allowed him to stay home. The friends he hung out with were similarly impaired and the mischief and vandalism that occupied their nights did not require much of an education. By age 12, Kenny had come into contact with the police over fifty times, but no charges were ever laid as he was too young. His victims simply had to put up with the shop-lifting, broken windows and stolen snowmobiles.
Kenny had his first taste of alcohol at age nine, when he stole a half bottle of rum from his grandparents after they passed out. He and his buddies polished it off in twenty minutes. He woke up in an RCMP cell later that morning and was turned over to social services, who promptly returned him to his grandparents while they were still recovering from their own hang-overs.
Marijuana was readily available in his home community and Kenny shop-lifted or broke into local stores to steal items he could sell to buy grass. He also smoked cigarettes by age 12, which his mother and grandparents cheerfully bought for him with their welfare money.
Kenny often saw his mother around town, frequently drunk and in the company of a variety of male companions. He sometimes wondered why she had given him to his grandparents, but he wrote that off as being "normal" - after all, many of his friends had also been given away to relatives.
Kenny served his first term of custody when he was 14, after a long string of property offences over the preceding two years. At age 19, he beat up his girlfriend while they were both drunk, and then tried to set fire to the house. He went to jail for eight months.
When Kenny was released from jail, the alcoholism and drug abuse continued. He went through a series of failed relationships and by the age of 22 he had three children from two different women. He continued to get into trouble with the police and was soon back in court, charged with assaulting his grandmother in an attempt to get her to sign over her pension cheque. She was hospitalized for a week and Kenny spent the next year in jail.
Upon his release, Kenny was to abstain from alcohol for a year. He was also to seek employment, but with a criminal record, a drug and alcohol habit, no work ethic and nothing in the way of training or education, getting any kind of steady work was impossible.
One evening, Kenny won $300 in a card game. Elated, he went directly to the local boot-legger, who took all the cash in exchange for a bottle of vodka. By 1:00 am Kenny had polished off the bottle and become highly depressed and suicidal.The following day his body was discovered hanging in a closet of his mother’s house.
Kenny was 23-years of age.
"Kenny", of course, is a fictitious character. However, this sad description is played out all too often in Nunavut.