Feb 8, 2010

Oh Canada?

I moved away from Nova Scotia over 10 years ago, but I have never felt farther away from home then I did my first year teaching.

Fresh out of university, my boyfriend at the time and I decided we wanted an adventure and accepted teaching positions at a fly-in First Nations Community in Northern Canada. And by fly-in I mean you can only get there by plane. A series of planes, actually, until you are on a 10 seater chatting with the pilots through the curtain.

About 250 people lived in this community above the tree line, along the Hudson Bay. No malls, no movie theatres, no restaurants, no anything. The nearest community was 350 kms away; the only way to travel to there by ice road in the winter. Fresh produce was flown in every Wednesday, weather permitting, and I had to go right away if I hoped to get anything for the week.

One thing there was a lot of were wild dogs and 2 'tame' wolves. They would follow me to the store and bite at my bags if I bought meat. One dog, that we called Jumper, took on the role as my protector and would walk with me and scare the other dogs away. The dogs would be, not by any fault of their own, one of the reasons I would come to dread opening my door each day.

The children.
The children did and still do break my heart. I taught grade 2 and 3 to a group of children that could not read or write. Many faced horrific home lives. A few did not. Some days I would have to teach with my back against the door because a couple of my students would try to leave and I was afraid of something happening to them if they wandered away outside on their own.

One day I walked into my classroom to find a new student. He sat in the middle of the room with his hood pulled over his face. I asked him to take it off but he would not so I didn't push it. I found out soon that he had been sniffing gasoline when he was younger and someone had thrown a match at him so he had suffered burns. He had been brought to this community for help. Then one day he wasn't there. He had been sent away for teaching our kids how to sniff gasoline. He was only seven years old. I still can't deal with this.

I grew to love these kids that came through my door and sometimes to my house. They were the reason I held on and stayed as long as I did.

I wish I could paint a pretty picture of a community that embraced their culture and were happy but I can't. Every woman I met was abused at some time in her life. This included my friends that I taught with. It got to a point where I could not face talking to any of the men. Although it was technically a dry community, there was alcohol and drug abuse. One of my friends explained it to me in a way that helped me to understand why so many suffered. She explained that her parents' generation were taken from their parents, their culture, their life and forced to conform in residential schools. They did not fit in this new world and they no longer fit in at home when they went back in the summer. The worst part was they never had parenting. They had no role model for what parenting looked like so when they had children, they were lost.

Life was not easy for us there either. I guess my first clue should have been the bullet holes in our house or the bars across our windows. The teenage kids made our lives hell. They would drive around our house at night and throw rocks and sticks at our windows, yelling at us. Sometimes we would hide in the bathroom, the only room without windows. Some girls wrote the word 'bitch' on the outside of our house with an arrow pointing to our front door. One morning I opened the door to leave for school to see a pile of dead dogs blocking our screen door. This became a regular occurence.

One night all of us 5 teachers got together for a dinner. We heard a loud thump. Someone had thrown a live puppy at the house. I took the puppy home and stopped going to work until they hired someone to patrol our houses at night.

He wasn't very reliable and we still got almost nightly visits. School was not much better. I had to cover my classroom windows, to the hallway and outside, to keep a few of the boys from staring in. They wrote threats about what they would do to me on the playground equipment and on the walls of the school. One night, I heard them outside our kitchen window making threats. That's when I started to get really scared. We talked about leaving many times. All the time. I just couldn't leave my kids. I couldn't walk away from their hugs and sweet faces.

A few nights later, we heard yelling outside our house. One of the boys my boyfriend taught was yelling and screaming at us. He was clearly drunk or high. I called the police and told them I was worried he was going to hurt himself or someone else. Unfortunately there were only 2 police men. One was great. One was not. Mr. Not was on duty. An hour later that boy was smashing an axe through our front door. That night we packed our bags with the police stayed with us and we left on the plane the next day. I cried the whole way home wishing I could take so many of the children with us.

My boyfriend and I broke up when we got home to his parents' place. I flew home to Nova Scotia and was a mess. My doctor told me that he thought I had post traumatic stress disorder and wanted to prescribe some medication. I decided to wait and see how I did on my own. My family and friends, along with a life changing holiday to Stockholm, helped me move on. It seems like another lifetime now.

Strangely enough, it is the Olympics that started me thinking about my time there. At a time where we will all feel such pride to be Canadian I can`t help but feel a little shame for what has happened in the far corners of our home and native land.

I also want to say that I hope this post does not offend anyone. This is simply my experience of one community at one time.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, does your story sound familiar! I am a Maritimer now living in Upper Canada, and I too spent time in the North in an isolated community that was suppose to be "dry". The experience really opened my eyes and I still cringe at some of the memories. I was there with my family and my boyfriend at the time. My boyfriend and I broke up and eventually, so did my parents. The north destroyed us as a family but gave me a strong desire to advocate for the children who live there! Thanks for sharing.


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