At dawn’s first light, with fresh snow blanketing the ground, Dale Good is chopping firewood, each crack of his axe splitting the logs in half. Nearby, a group of totems silently watches over him and his community of Gitanyow, an Indigenous village in remote northern B.C.
It’s in quiet moments like these that he thinks about his son, Zachary.
“I still write to him on [Facebook] Messenger on his birthdays, wherever I feel lost,” Good said. “I tell him I love him, I miss him, and that I wish he were still here.”
But Zachary Turner-Good will never answer. He was killed six years ago, at age 25, his former girlfriend convicted of manslaughter.
Turner-Good’s death is not an isolated incident. A 16-month CBC News investigation into intimate-partner homicide found that among male victims, one in three were Indigenous — the highest number of victims across all ethnicities.
It also marks an overrepresentation, given that First Nations, Inuit and Métis people made up only six per cent of the Canadian population as of the 2016 Census.
Experts say that very few men — particularly in Indigenous communities — open up and talk about this kind of violence. And until they do, there will be few options created to stem it.
‘Just the way he was’
Dale Good remembers when he first held his baby boy in his hands; when he lifted him up and held him close, he could see Zachary’s future.
“It was like receiving a hug from him,” Good recalled. “That’s the kind of person he was throughout his life. Affectionate. He always hugged people.”
Zachary was also helpful throughout his life, Good said. He’d always help family members with one thing or another. Even village elders, often cutting and stacking their firewood in the winters, refusing offers of payment.
“That was him. That’s just the way he was,” he said.
Good doesn’t recall when Zachary started seeing his girlfriend, Isabelle Johnny. But he remembers when he first brought her to a family gathering. “She seemed cold and distant. And there was nothing behind her eyes,” he said.
After an incident between the couple saw Isabelle charged with domestic assault on Zachary, she was placed on probation, and Zachary moved into an apartment on his own.
Good helped him buy furniture and move into the space — something he’d come to regret.
On May 6, 2015, Good was sleeping in his living quarters in a work camp in Kitimat, B.C., after finishing a shift when he was awakened by a knock on his door. His daughter and her husband were standing there when he opened it.
His stomach dropped.
“They told me she got into Zachary’s apartment … and stabbed him, and that he died in hospital,” he said. “The hardest part was learning how he died. You never think it could happen to your family, but it did.”
In 2017, Isabelle Johnny pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to four years in prison, as well as three years’ probation, a lifetime ban on possessing firearms and she had to supply a DNA sample. She was also ordered to have no contact with Zachary’s family. After credit for time served, she spent 198 days in custody.
It’s only in retrospect, Good said, that he sees there were warning signs something was wrong in the relationship.
Zachary started attending fewer family gatherings. He was losing weight. And he stopped playing soccer, a game he loved and was exceptionally skilled at. Good later found out that Zachary would sometimes live with relatives in Terrace, B.C., often for a week or more at a time.
He never told his parents why, Good said. In fact, he never talked about the relationship at all — something Good feels contributed to his death.
“Men won’t talk about [marital] violence they’re enduring because of how they feel they’ll be perceived. As wimps or weak,” he said. “It seems like we always expect the violence to come from our men — but it doesn’t.”
Strategies, services lacking in remote communities
One contributing factor to Zachary’s death could have been the lack of programs and services for men experiencing intimate partner violence, particularly in a remote Indigenous community.
Cindy Robinson knows all too well about this.
While Robinson now lives in Nanaimo, B.C., where she is studying for a graduate degree in leadership and health, her home community of Kitasoo is located on the province’s northwest coast, accessible only by boat and plane.
She served one term as an elected councillor, and learned first hand about intimate partner violence.
Robinson said she intervened and broke up a number of fights between couples in the small community, where there were no programs, services or specialized counselling to help.
Community decision-makers weren’t equipped to handle the issue beyond “waking the chief up in the middle of the night and asking, ‘Can we place this person in a different location?'” she said. “It’s something that requires strategies.”
One night, she recalled, her own home became a de facto safe house, when a mother showed up with her children, all of them in their pajamas, fleeing a violent husband. “There was nowhere else for them to go, so I took them in,” she said.
It soon dawned on Robinson that for all fights where she intervened, the couples had something in common: Trauma they had lived with since childhood.
“They got it from their parents, who got it from their parents — it’s intergenerational,” said Robinson. “I think a lot of it does stem from the first contact of colonization. Churches and the residential school experience.”
Male voices not part of the conversation
Robert Innes, an associate professor of social sciences and Indigenous studies at McMaster University who has studied Indigenous masculinity and violence, says research into violence against Indigenous men by Indigenous women is limited.
There are programs and services for Indigenous men who have committed violence toward Indigenous women. But because Indigenous men don’t tend to talk about the violence they experience, no one has given thought to the need, said Innes.
The biggest reason for the scarcity of data and resources is that stigma and shame prevent men from starting the conversation, he said.
“They don’t want people to know their business. And also because, you know, they are not supposed to be beaten up by their spouse,” Innes said. “Who wants to have their manhood and their masculinity questioned, right? Or made fun of?”
Men need safe spaces to open up about the violence they experience, he said, and their audience should be the experts who provide similar programs for women.
But the power of just one person speaking out can be great, said Innes, pointing to former AFN National Chief Phil Fontaine’s disclosure of the sexual abuse he experienced in residential school.
“That made it easier for people to come forward and to talk about their experiences. And this is the same issue,” he said.
Back in Gitanyow, Dale Good splits another block of wood with the crack of his axe. He places the halves on the growing stack in front of him, then pauses for a few moments, thoughtfully, before speaking.
Zachary is gone forever, he says, and part of him died with his son in that lonely apartment.
“It will never leave you until it’s your time to go. It says with you,” he said. “Regardless of how you lose your child, that piece of your heart is gone.”
But Good says he also feels obligated to impart the painful lessons he learned from his son’s death. To share what he knows about intimate partner violence with Zachary’s friends and the community. To start the conversation.
“As men, we [think we] have to be strong and not show emotion,” he said. “Listen. Look what’s around you. Is it worth your life? Because eventually it will take your life.”
Support is available for anyone affected by intimate partner violence. You can access support services and local resources in Canada by visiting this website. If your situation is urgent, please contact emergency services in your area.