NDN NEWZ: Little Girl Found Dead Behind Funeral Home
Nick Coleman, Star Tribune
November 2, 2005
It was just before sunrise on a late October Sunday when Sidney Jade
Mahkuk was found on a gritty boulevard on Columbus Avenue in south
Minneapolis. She was on her side, her jacket covering her like a blanket. She loved animals. She loved spelling. She was 12 years old.
"I thought she was sleeping," says a 23-year-old man named Nick who
found her on the street. "I said, 'Hey, hey, wake up!" Then I shook her, and there was nothing. Her eyes were rolled back in her head. That's what I remember: Her face was so distressed. There was no question she had passed."
Her body was discovered behind a funeral home. In the other direction, a block away, was a hospital. She fell, or more likely was dumped, closer to the funeral home than the emergency room, a sixth-grader just seven blocks from home and a million miles from a chance at life. There were no signs of trauma and Minneapolis police are waiting for tests to tell whether she overdosed on drugs or alcohol. Investigators are trying to trace her last days and find out who she was with. They have labeled it a suspicious death.
A better label might be: An invisible life.
For if Sidney had been a white high school girl who disappeared on a
spring fling in the Caribbean, she'd be a household name and the mystery of what happened to her would be hyped on every cable channel. But she was an inner-city girl from a poor American Indian family, and when she disappeared and died, hardly anyone outside her little, besieged neighborhood noticed. Not the school where she enrolled in September but which took her name off the rolls when she didn't come back. Not her family, who thought she was staying with friends. Not the many institutions that are supposed to protect kids from the perils of a life unprotected. And not the media, which responded slowly to the unexplained death of a kid on the street.
If Sidney had lethal amounts of drugs or alcohol in her system, police will try to learn who gave it to her, police Capt. Rich Stanek said. "There may not have been a knife sticking out of her or a gunshot wound, but a crime has been committed," he said. "I doubt that this little girl had a heart attack or a stroke."
An older look and crowd
Sidney looked older than 12, her family says, and Stanek says she hung out with an older crowd, a troubled crowd. It took two days before she could be identified from a tattoo that an officer had noted earlier. When cops asked Sidney's mother, Glenda Askenette, to make a positive identification, she was too upset to view her daughter's body. Sidney's brother Zachary, 25, stepped in, almost blacking out when he saw her.
"I knew it was her, but I kept telling myself it wasn't," Zachary says. "My family is really angry and we want to know what happened to our sister. If she got murdered, we want someone to pay for it. It's hard for our family to take itall in. It seems that because she was a native girl from the Cities, no one cares too much."
Sidney was the second youngest of seven children. Last spring, she and her mother participated in a "strengthening families" program in which the youths vowed to become "strong young people with a great future" and to make "good decisions so we reach our goals."
Wonderful words, easier said than done.
Her father died of a heart attack a few years ago, on a street corner only blocks from where Sidney was found. One of her big brothers, Edison, 20, is serving a 62-year prison sentence for a gang-related double homicide last year.
He hopes that anyone who harmed his sister will end up in prison, too, "It's heartbreak and loss," he said by phone. "I'll miss her. That she had to go like that, so young, you know? I hope somebody goes to jail for it."
Grief is not excluded by prison bars. But some may look at a clouded
family history and find it easier to turn their backs on a dead 12-year-old. To turn away requires a willful ignorance of the crushing costs of poverty, racism and the crime that stalk the poor. But go ahead, if it makes you feel better.
Turn your back on Sidney Mahkuk.
She was used to it.
'Looking at the system'
"There are a lot of kids that just fall through the cracks," said Rich Wayman of Street-Works, a street-based outreach program for homeless youths. Adolescents and teens are particularly vulnerable, he said, because many child support services have been cut and older kids are considered old enough to run away from trouble. That's a tight-fisted budget tactic that ignores the fact that many kids run into trouble.
"This has us all looking at the system," said Tim Brown, Indian
education director for the Minneapolis public schools. Usually, a social service agency or a family asks for help with a child. In Sidney's case, no one rang any alarms. She showed up to register at Sanford Middle School, then vanished.
Until she was found on Columbus Avenue, before sunup.
"She was just a blip on the radar screen, never to appear again until she showed up this way," Brown said. "She just fell through the cracks. How did this come to be?"
Whether we are as interested in what happened to a girl in Minneapolis as on Aruba may tell us a lot about ourselves.
"This is not just another dead body," says the Police Department's
Stanek, who has a 12-year-old. "We're working hard on this. This girl fell through the cracks and was discarded, like a bag of trash."
Sidney would have turned 13 on Nov. 29. Her funeral was held last
Saturday, on the Menominee Indian Reservation in northeastern Wisconsin. It began with traditional ceremonies and a two-night wake, followed by a Catholic funeral and burial at St. Anthony's Church in Neopit, Wis. Elders said she had a restless spirit that was anxious to go back to the spirit world.
Comfort comes where you can find it.
During her wake, Sidney was given a traditional Indian name. A year
must pass before it can be revealed to the outside world.
Perhaps by then, the truth of what happened to Sidney Mahkuk -- and
what didn't happen for her -- will be revealed.
I'd like to thank my friend BravesHeart for posting this article on our "Natives Speak" message board. May justice be done for this child.
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