Cover

AVOIDING THE PITFALLS OF POVERTY

A native mother in Nova Scotia dreams her kids will stay in school

September 17 2001
Cover

AVOIDING THE PITFALLS OF POVERTY

A native mother in Nova Scotia dreams her kids will stay in school

September 17 2001

AVOIDING THE PITFALLS OF POVERTY

A native mother in Nova Scotia dreams her kids will stay in school

Jessy Paul considers himself lucky. The 11 -year-old has a room of his own in his family’s house on the Shubenacadie First Nation reserve at Indian Brook, about 30 km north of Halifax. Most of his siblings have to share. The walls of his sanctuary are covered in photographs of wrestlers cut from magazines. He has posted a large American flag on one wall. And an empty fish tank sits on an old entertainment unit, the only other furniture in the room besides the bed. There is no toy box or toys. The youngster was given a new bicycle in the spring for doing well at school, but it was stolen during the summer. “I have some things,” says the slight boy with short hair. “I’ve got five pellet guns and two paintball guns.”

The six-bedroom home that Jessy shares with his mom, Linda, 43, and five brothers and sisters is as spartan and worn as his room. The linoleum tiles in the kitchen are ripped, exposing the concrete floor beneath, and the walls are pockmarked with holes. There are no closet doors or rods to hang clothes on, and the furniture is broken. There’s no telephone or car. “I have a son who would like to play hockey,” says Linda. “But he can’t because I can’t afford equipment.”

Jessy has always lived on the reserve, which houses about 1,200 people and is considered one of Nova Scotia’s poorest. He and his family get by on about $1,700 a month. Most of the time that money is stretched to feed and house not only Linda’s own kids but two of her grandchildren as well. The family frequently runs out of necessities, particularly items like bread, potatoes and eggs, says Linda. She will often go without food herself just to make sure her kids are fed. “My dream in life,” says Linda, “is that my children get enough education to find a job. I am pushing and pushing my kids to stay in school.” That may be easier said than done. Shiena, Linda’s eldest daughter, says there are many temptations on reserves drawing kids away from school. “When you’re young, it’s all about trying to fit in with

friends, and this gets you in a lot of trouble,” explains the 24-year-old. “Drinking and fighting are the big things.” Kicked out of school in Grade 9 for bullying, Shiena has struggled since then to complete high school part time while raising a family of her own on the nearby Millbrook native reserve. Shiena, who is expecting her third daughter this month, says she’s committed to ensuring her kids avoid the pitfalls that got her. She’s going to talk to them about poverty and how with hard work it doesn’t have to be a trap. “I will teach them about money, responsibility and self-esteem,” says Shiena, “so that they can lead good and happy lives.”

Sherri Aikenhead on Indian Brook reserve