Thursday, September 18, 2014
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Bird’s spirits lifted from support

BY JASON WARICK, THE STARPHOENIX

The Prince Albert woman tortured and burned so badly her legs had to be amputated says she’s overwhelmed by an outpouring of support.

In her first public comments since the vicious June 1 attack, Marlene Bird said the cards, letters and rallies in Saskatoon and P.A. have lifted her spirits.

“Things have been hard, (but) I never thought so many people would think of me. It feels good,” Bird said in a wide-ranging interview Sunday afternoon inside her room at St. Paul’s Hospital.

Bird, 47, was attacked in downtown Prince Albert on June 1. Following an evening worship service, the homeless woman was walking to her aunt’s with the hope of staying the night. She normally walks with a friend at night, but no one she knew was at church.

“I get scared by myself, but I couldn’t find anybody,” she said.

She said she heard some people speaking and passed out shortly after.

“Nobody said nothing to me, but I think I got hit on the back of the head. I’m pretty sure I got knocked out,” she recalled, placing her hand over the stitches in her scalp.

According to reports, she was discovered in a downtown Prince Albert parking lot and rushed to hospital in Edmonton. Bird said she remembers nothing between passing out and waking up in the hospital bed.

One leg was amputated almost immediately, followed by a second surgery to remove the other a few days later. She had several skin grafts, taking tissue from her abdomen and using it to cover her severely burned back and buttocks. Her face was cut badly and her left eye remains patched due to recurring double-vision.

“My one side hurts and I get a lot of headaches,” she said.

As word of the attack spread, leaders in Prince Albert and her home community of Montreal Lake Cree Nation, community workers and others expressed shock. Rallies were organized. P.A. police pledged to make the investigation a top priority.

Leslie Ivan Roderick Black, 29, was charged with attempted murder and aggravated sexual assault.

When charges include sexual assault, the alleged victim’s name is typically not allowed to be published. Bird, however, convinced the judge to lift the ban, saying she wants the world to know what happened to her. She hopes it will spur discussion around issues like homelessness, violence against women and even residential schools.

Bird rotated through a number of foster homes and attended residential school in Prince Albert.

“I was told I couldn’t speak Cree. There was a lot of other stuff that happened, too,” she said.

Relatives kept in contact, however, and found her a placement at a Bible school near the town of Fort Qu’Appelle as a teenager. She was active in the choir and other activities.

“I sang so good, the teacher gave me a harp to learn,” she said.

The students would serve the community helping with various projects.

Life was good, she said. Not long after her return to Prince Albert, Bird got involved in a long-term relationship and started working at the casino in the city.

However, the man eventually turned violent. Bird quit her job after two years.

“I was sick of calling in sick because I had a black eye or sore ribs. I felt so weak,” she said.

Because Bird did not leave him, her children were apprehended by child welfare workers who feared for their safety.

In one particularly vicious attack, Bird’s partner left her near death with three broken ribs and a host of other injuries.

She left him for good after being released from hospital.

Bird went back to school and completed her Grade 10 classes. However, a combination of low self-esteem and alcohol addiction led her to quit the following year.

For the past decade, she has lived mostly in Prince Albert and for a time in British Columbia. She has stayed in shelters or with friends.

Two years ago, she received a cash settlement for her residential school experience. She bought a vehicle but said her uncle crashed it. She gave away much of her other settlement money to other homeless people.

Bird’s family has set up a trust fund. Donations can be made at any RBC or YWCA location.

Her aunt, Lorna Thiessen, has been at Bird’s bedside for much of the week. She and other relatives will be co-ordinating Bird’s care once she’s released from hospital. They’ve been in touch with the War Amps, a man who has offered to train a service dog for her and others.

“We’ll figure out what Marlene wants and help with that,” Thiessen said.

Bird will likely be transferred to Saskatoon City Hospital for rehabilitation. She’s already tried to use a wheelchair a couple of times.

“I can drive it, but getting in and out is a problem,” she said with a laugh.

Bird has two goals after her release from hospital — get her high school diploma and spend more time with her kids.

“I’m still feeling kind of scared. It’s pretty bad for someone to do that to a person,” she said. “But I’ve got lots of support.”

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