Family, Community & Enough For All
When I was born, I lived in a new community (townsite), on the reserve, next door to extended family and I lived with both my parents. What a different life it would have been if things had not changed so drastically when I was in kindergarten. We were all separated and my brother and I were raised by my Aunt and Uncle, moving frequently around Alberta, on and off reserve. I was part of a large family that always opened our home to extended family and friends. Blackfoot was only spoken by the adults and only after the children were chased outside to play. I used to call it the secret language but growing up, I never knew the reason. My Dad was in heaven and I was only allowed to see my Mom twice a year, about one hour each time. I was inside this huge circle but many times, I felt very much alone, especially when I missed my Mom and Dad.
So, it was no surprise that I moved across the country at the age of 17 for University. That first summer break offered me my first four months of freedom. I studied cell biology towards my Bachelor of Science, which allowed me the opportunity to work on dream job at the Research Station in Lethbridge on Bovine Viral Diarrhea Virus (BVDV) studies. It also allowed me to move to townsite on my reserve and live with my Mom for the first time since I was four years old. She lived there with her husband and two children. My younger sister and cousin moved in as well for fun. Because it was so much fun, my other two brothers came along for the summer. That summer is one of my happiest memories, getting to know my birth family, my cousins and my home in townsite.
My eyes were opened to going out with friends, visiting St. Mary’s lake for swimming/water skiing, meeting at the river for visits and all the other crazy things young people do for fun. It was wonderful. Since I hardly had freedom as a child, hardly any money while away at school and a really small worldview, Stand-off was amazing. I was used to asking permission and being told no while I was growing up, so I would instead climb out of the bedroom window to meet my friends. Looking back, I realize that my Mom and Step Dad knew what I was doing but let me be young and silly/foolish.
My step Dad was on Chief and Council at that time. I loved that he was always helping people out in the community. I saw him buy a meal from McDonalds for someone sleeping on the sidewalk. I saw him give $20 to a mother in the building who asked for help. He would lend his car to people to get to town to buy groceries. He would give his step-children money if they were going to a movie or the store. He went to pray at the Catholic church, Full Gospel camps and he would attend the ceremony at the Sundance. When I asked him why he would go all over to pray, he said because they are all leading him to the Creator. My Mom was quieter but she also loved to attend meetings on the reserve, Fort Macleod and in Lethbridge. She was really close to her family, many of whom lived nearby.
When my children were born, I was living in California. My husband and I both worked (him part-time, classes part-time and me full-time) but all together we made under $15/hour each. A two-bedroom apartment was $1250 plus heat and utilities. Daycare was more than a $1000. When you add in a car loan, insurance, gas, clothes, Food, etc., you can see why we had to leave the Golden State. We ended up back in townsite in 2009 & 2010. It was a completely different world than it had been in 1990. My mom was a widow for a second time and my brothers were now adults with their own complicated lives. There has also been a lot more loss in their lives. It felt impossible at times, having no job, no car, no choices. My husband volunteered at the food bank where we went for help. I continued to apply for work but quickly learned that without good credit, reliable transportation, a cell phone, etc., work is almost impossible to find. I went to Income Support for a month but was helped as a single person since my family was all from the USA. I was even told that I really should “Go back to the States!”.
Luckily, we fought (yes, I mean, fought) our way to Calgary. I am still not wealthy, but I am far, far from being impoverished. However, I will always remember what poverty looks and feels like. I don’t encourage you to try it out if you have been lucky enough not to feel it. I will encourage you to learn everything you can about having lost choices or only having choices that are unhealthy. I will encourage you to listen to people who have faced seemingly insurmountable odds and overcome them. I will encourage you to listen without judgement and continue to help in the ways that are possible.
I have had angels come into my life many times. I have had friends help me buy groceries or give me a ride so I don’t have to walk. I have been gifted clothes and toys for my children. They have learned to think of others and to donate their time. This past summer, we realized that my daughter outgrew all of her toys. We bundled them up and donated them to a local daycare. She went in first and told me later that the children were bouncing around her and super excited at all the Barbie dolls, clothes and dream house. As a family, we love to volunteer in our community and have made so many friends. If you cannot donate any money (however small or big) to your favorite non-profit, think about volunteering your time or your skills. If you have time, learn about the Enough for All strategy. Thank-you. – Pam Beebe
- Pam Beebe is the Indigenous Strategist at VCC, working to advance the implementation of the Enough for All strategy in Calgary