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A Different Story From The City

Betty Ann Adam

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      JUNE 1988      p30  
Marie is an Indian woman who is part of a growing population who defies the negative stereotypes and statistics of urban Indians. She has chosen to make the city work for her by drawing upon the strength of her own will power instead of allowing herself to be conquered by the system. She agreed to tell our readers her story but asked, for the sake of privacy, that we not print her last name.

At seventeen, Marie left the northern reserve where she grew up and married a Metis man. They had five children and lived in various small towns in the north. When her husband began to physically abuse her, Marie decided to take her children away, to a place without violence in their lives.

Saskatoon seemed a likely hideout, it was a pleasant city but more importantly, it was big enough that her husband couldn't find them and Interval House offered a shelter until a suitable home could be found.

The new life was often difficult. The children experienced racism in school, something new to the kids who until then, had attended schools almost completely populated by Indian children. Marie couldn't find work. She hadn't completed high school and didn't have marketable skills. Life or welfare was bleak and Marie began to drink heavily. When the children were apprehended and placed it foster homes, Marie knew that it was time to take control of her life.

At a treatment centre where she recovered from a long drinking spell, Marie began to fortify herself for the struggle ahead. She would need all the determination she could muster to stay away from alcohol and to face the courts where she would have to fight for her children.

Eventually, the kids were reunited with their mother. Marie supplemented their welfare income with money from housecleaning. As the kids reached their teens, the family encountered the usual hardships of rebellion and Marie had to use her determination again.

Throughout those troubled years however, Marie continued to stress the importance of education in her children's lives. She told them it was the key to self determination and positive choices and, having regained their treaty status made higher education accessable.

Eventually she even convinced herself. Twenty-two years after she'd quit school, Marie enrolled in the Social Work Program at the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College.

Marie admits that getting into school was the beginning of another uphill battle. There was a full load of university courses, the part-time housekeeping work and teenagers at home.

The payoffs for all the years of hanging in there and not giving up are rich. This year Marie and her oldest daughter will both graduate from university. Two of the younger ones are also enrolled in the Federated College and the other two are currently completing high school.

Her determination to stop drinking and make her life what she wanted it to be was the key to making the city work for her and her family.

"Once alcohol is out of your life you have other things," Marie says. "You replace the times you spent drinking with positive things that you like to do."