“Canada is a prosperous and affluent country.”
“Canada is officially home to the richest middle class on the planet.”
“Canada is home to one of the largest populations of ultra-wealthy, and the ultra-rich are only getting richer.”
A simple google search of “How rich are Canadians” quickly locates thousands of articles that essentially all say the same thing. Canadians are rich. If this is true, why have I always been so poor.
Danielle’s Self Story “Pity” shared similar sentiments to my own self-story “149 months“, in that as we both, spent our youth and now our early adult years feeling overwhelmed by our financial status. Growing up, my parents separated when I was eight. My mom, brother, and I moved in with a family we had met at church who were going through a similar situation. My mom cleaned school buses, and both her and our new “mom” were going back to school full time. We were two parents and five kids in three bedrooms, sharing a single bathroom. I never wanted to have friends over. I shared a room with my new sister until I was 14. Being from a wealthier farming community, I was angry. Everyone I knew lived in huge houses. They had their own bedrooms. None of them has divorced parents, let alone living with two As white Canadians, how were we so poor. Everything we learned in school about the Canadian identity was that we were a wealthy, happy country. My family was anything but.
Now as an adult, I barely make it paycheck to paycheck and still worry about silly little things like purchasing gas. Alicia’s story, “Got Gas?” described this feeling, and how challenging living paycheck to paycheck can be. It reminded me that the normal narrative of prosperity in Canada can lead to difficult and frustrating conversations between loved ones. Her comment “I kept thinking about how much things cost and hoping that one day, I won’t have to be so concerned about something so simple, yet a privilege to have, a car to drive to fill up a tank with gas.” Is a feeling I am sure that is shared among a large portion of the population. My repayment assistance from my student loan has been denied. I work full-time, and am seeking part-time work. The only reason I live in the home I do is because I have three other roommates to share the rent and bills with. We all find ourselves in the same situation, working full time and barely making ends meet.
When I was writing the above portion of this assignment, I took note of my peers stories that contrasts my own experience. I was surprised to find the number of peers who shared stories of wealth. Logan shared a story full of cleaners, large televisions and gaming consoles. Nathan shared the story of his first riders game, and how his interaction with a homeless person put into perspective his privilege. There were many others stories that sounded the same. I had to actively remind myself that these peers have faced adversity in their own ways, and that money does not define their experiences. I am so grateful that they are using their contrasting experiences to challenge the narrative in Canada that Canadians are all wealthy and prosperous. Logans, “Are you Rich?” contrasted my own experience as growing up, as we did all of the cleanings whereas Logan had lovely women who were hired to do the cleaning. Though our experiences were different, I can appreciate how both challenge the normal narrative.
The Huffington Post Article “This is Why Poor People’s Decisions make Perfect Sense” really emphasized how poverty begets poverty, regardless of the narrative of prosperity in Canada. The author of the article shares her story of poverty, and how her economic status isn’t defined by the few purchases she makes, because regardless. She’s poor. She shares:
“It’s that now that I have proven that I am a Poor Person that is all that I am or ever will be. It is not worth it to me to live a bleak life devoid of small pleasures so that one day I can make a single large purchase. I will never have large pleasures to hold on to.”
Canadians are not all wealthy, and many of us live at or below the poverty line. Many of us spent our childhoods, embarrassed about our living condition. Many of us worry about whether or not the gas we have will make it until Friday, when we get paid. Many of us don’t have cleaners but have parents who are forced to work off hours and part-time and do their own cleaning. Being poor isn’t a choice, but the idea that Canadian are rich is being disrupted by honest authors like Danielle, Alicia, Logan, Linda, and myself.
Tirado, L. (2017, December 07). Here’s Why Poor People’s Bad Decisions Make Perfect Sense. Retrieved November 14, 2018, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/linda-tirado/why-poor-peoples-bad-decisions-make-perfect-sense_b_4326233.html
!! URGENT. RAP APPLICATION DENIED.
Panic instantly explodes across my chest. Denied? DENIED. denied. Okay it’s fine, it’s not like I didn’t know this would eventually happen. I grab my laptop and power it on. I feel the familiar heat on my lap while the screen loads. I read the email again on my phone. I need to pull out the facts before I panic.
- Minimum payment starting on the 31st is $808 WHAT THE FUCK. THAT’S MORE THAN MY RENT AND UTILITIES AND CAR PAYMENT COMBINED.
- That means I have seventeen days to find $600 extra to make payment. Fuck me. Fuck. It will be fine. If I cut back my grocery budget, put less on my credit card and line of credit, and don’t put anything in my savings… Okay Megan get the facts.
- Seventeen days until my payment is due.
- Payment is going from $263 to $808. I am going to vomit.
I guess that’s all I need to know.
Why do I have to forgo my savings to pay my student loan?? How am I going to eat. What about my dog? What the fuck. I have to go to school to get a decent job, and then all the extra money I “”make”” goes to paying back the loans I needed to take out to get an education. This system is B R O K E N. Why even bother going to school?
I can feel heat creeping up my neck. My house is stifling. I lean across the couch to open the window. The sunlight shines through onto my napping dog, she has no idea what it is like to feel constantly stressed because of money. A moment of envy flashes. SHE can pay the bills for a month, and I’ll just nap have eat snacks.
I open my budget spreadsheet, where every dollar is accounted for. I look at it with dread and I have to remind myself. School was an investment. Without school you wouldn’t have your job. Without school you would likely be an addict. Without school you would still be so so broke.
Tears well while I comb through my budget while I try and find the non-existent extra money to pay this bill, every month, for the next 149 months.
I can hear the music coming form down the hall. This is the first time I have ever been to a dance, and wanted to be there! Since I joined a few months ago Air Cadets, I have found some of the best friends. I can feel the excitement from my head to my toes, all I want is to be there. With a huge grin and a sense of belonging, I walk towards the dance wearing my favorite brown West49 hoodie and a pair of old jeans.
I find my friends at the snack table. We fill our glasses with cool fruit punch and our plates with chips and pretzels. We find a seat on the concrete floor against a wall. We didn’t come to dance, but reveled in any opportunity that we could all get together and hang out. We meet once a week and get to drill together and sit through classes, but we don’t get lots of down time. Our group sits together, the floor feels cool to the touch. We chat and laugh, watching more people arrive.
After a few minutes I walk back to the snack table to grab a bottle of water and run into one of my flight sergeants. I have a moment of nervousness, but it flees quickly. Steve is one of my favourite leaders! We are both wearing jeans and the same hoodie, only his is in black. He stares at me with utter disbelief. He says “nice hoodie” and promptly walks away without another word. When I see him a few seconds later the hoodie is gone, and he is wearing a black tank top.
He was fit, funny, had tons of friends, was a part of the ‘it’ crowd. I was tall, fat, and awkward. Though the look of disgust on his face only lasted a few seconds before he composed himself, I saw it. I have never felt more uncomfortable in my skin than in that moment. Typically when all the cadets are together, we are in the same blue, woolen uniform. Shiny boots and belt buckles. He has never seen me in my “civies”. I have always worn boys clothes because it is so hard to find comfy girls clothes when you’re bigger. But I guess he didn’t know that.
I felt disgusting. Why couldn’t I be like normal girls and wear a skirt and a blouse? Why couldn’t I be thin and pretty? If I were a guy it wouldn’t have been an issue to be wearing the same hoodie- it would have been funny. But I am not a girl, am I? I feel like a girl, I just don’t dress like one. I like wearing boys clothes, even though I am a girl. I am so weird. What is wrong with me?
I called my mom with a stomach ache and went home. I left my friends on the concrete floor with their pretzels and punch without a word.
I will be honest, I did not take my own role in reconciliation seriously until the last few years. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the idea that racism was real and alive in Canada. We were a polite, multicultural country after all. When it came to the treatment of First Nations people around Canada and in my community, I told myself that it wasn’t my fault. It was their responsibility to deal with their addictions, crumbling homes, unemployment, and that it was better for the youth to be in foster homes.
I struggled for a very long time with this portion of the Canadian, and in extension, my identity. I didn’t understand why it was even a part of my identity? I had nothing to do with residential schools, and neither did my family. I am only a second generation Canadian. I didn’t actively discriminate. I truly believed that treaties didn’t apply to me, and honestly didn’t know what they were. I was convinced that I wasn’t racist. I felt I loved all people, regardless of what I joked about with my friends behind closed doors.
I was blind, and incredibly wrong.
I have spent countless hours on my journey learning what it means to be a treaty person. While I still have a lot to learn, I have begun to better recognize how treaties play a role in my identity, as systematically I have benefited from an deeply racist system each day of my life. I allowed myself to be complacent in my own internal racism and that of those around me. I may not be able to overturn oppressive institutions in a day, but I actively hold myself accountable for:
- The speech and language I use everyday.
- My thoughts when I am interacting with Indigenous persons.
- The people I surround myself with, and the actions and speech that I allow to penetrate my circles. This means that I often have to have uncomfortable conversations with people I love.
- My online presence; pages I follow, and people I publicly interact with through social media.
- Remaining up to date on current affairs, so that I am aware of what is happening now, in my city, province, and country.
- Taking action.
This summer I had the opportunity to spend time at Justice for our Stolen Children camp. I donated food and bug spray, answering the call to have settlers present in the park. I followed the news closely with how the Saskatchewan government interacted with the peaceful protesters. The more and more I followed, the angrier and angrier I felt. How could the government not understand the arresting peaceful protesters in the name of Canada Day celebrations is unconstitutional. Why did Brett Holland feel that he had the right to violently attack the park? What about the judge who called for the removal of the protest from the park and encouraging law enforcement to take action against the protesters, and by extension the constitution? These actions give permission to others to continue to be complacent in this violent, systematic pattern of racism at the highest provincial level.
As a treaty person, I refuse to be silent. I am excited to continue along on this path of education and reconciliation.
The red and blue lights flash behind me. Instantly I feel an overwhelming sense of anxiety and put my foot gently on the break, my signal clicks rhythmically, indicating that I am pulling to the right. My breaks squeak and my rusty Toyota comes to a stop on the side of the highway. Cars and tractors rush past as the squad car pulls up behind me.
As I unroll my window and dig for my registration in my cluttered glove box my thoughts run wild. “I don’t think I was speeding, but I can’t be sure. My odometer has been broken for weeks. I am wearing my seat belt, wasn’t on my phone, my plates are up to date. UGH!”As the window slowly rolls open I smell the faint smell of motor oil coming through my window, the familiar crunching of footsteps get louder as the officer approaches my car. “License and registration please”.
I hand the officer my papers, it’s so windy outside I worry about them blowing away. “Do you know why I pulled you over” He asks. I tentatively admit no, feeling my cheeks go red. “You were going 15 over the speed limit, then we noticed your taillight was out as well.” I explain to the officer that my odometer stopped working and I had an appointment to get it fixed, and I honestly didn’t know about the taillight. I could feel the sweat beading on my palms while we spoke, police officers make me nervous. It seems silly but the things you read in the news are alarming.
As the officer walks back to his car, I feel the familiar weight in my gut. I was already late going home to dinner before this, and now I am in so much trouble. I grab my phone to text my family and explain, but then I decide to wait. I wouldn’t want to get in trouble for using my phone behind the wheel now on top of whatever he decides to ticket me with.
The minutes seem to stretch for hours as I wait for the officer to return with my tickets. With each moment passes and I am later and later for dinner. After what seems like an eternity, I hear it. The slam of a door and the faint sounds of footsteps on pavement, he is coming back. After a brief pause, he hands me back my papers. “Get that odometer fixed and replace the taillight. Oh, and Happy Birthday”.
Instantly the knot in my stomach dissolves. No ticket?!? It’s my lucky day! I thank the officer repeatedly and wish him the best. I quickly pull away and head home, now very late for my birthday dinner.
It’s my first day of University, just a few minutes until class begins. I have class in PE250, the first class of my first degree! Excitement pulses through me as I walk across the gleaming concrete floor to the lecture hall. As I walk enter the room, I push through two heavy wooden doors, they release a loud squeal as they move. Looking around my excitement beings to evolve to feelings of nervousness. My palms are sweaty, this classroom seats 300 people, that’s larger then my entire grade 7-12 high school combined. My backpack is heavy, packed with snacks and a semester worth of note books and textbooks. I bare the weight over my shoulder and feel it down my back into my knees. As I continue my walk in, the concrete floor turns to carpet. Crunch, crunch, crunch. From the front of the room, I look around.
I find a seat in the back. All I can smell is dust, body spray and old crusty carpet. The chairs are stiff and uncomfortable, how does someone sit in here for three hours??? The room beings to fill with people; 30, 40, 100, 200. The room gets louder and louder while students like me continue to pile in until every seat is full. There are even students sitting on the floor! I guess it happened during add/drop, when hopeful students want a seat in a full class. I never thought that Biology 1010 would be this popular!
As I look around I am rendered speechless- a large portion of the people in my class are coloured. My breath catches in my throat, and suddenly I feel very cold. Growing up in my small, peculiar town, I have never had the opportunity to interact with people of colour before. For some reason this creates an intense feeling of anxiety and nervousness. My thoughts run wild: “What if I say the wrong thing?” “What if I do the wrong thing?” “I didn’t know there were this many people of colour in Lethbridge?!” “Wait that’s rude Megan.” I take a moment to text my mom “WHAT DO I DO”.
Moms response is sluggish. As I wait for her to text back my chest gets heavier and heavier. I feel tears begin welling in my eyes, I cannot breathe. The sounds in the room intensify, until all I can hear is a violent humming in my ears. I don’t know what to do. I practice what I know- a drink of cool water, close my eyes, and a deep breath. Count: one, two, three. I take another breath. With my eyes closed the room is dark, and I try to hear the voices around me, restart my senses.
All at once the feelings subside when my phone make the familiar *buzz buzz* on the desk. My phone reads “It’s okay baby, you will be fine. Remember that everyone deserves an education, and people come from different places. Make friends, say hello. Don’t be afraid.” Moments like these I am forced to remember that many people live in Canada, and just because my odd hometown lacked diversity. I am glad to always have my voice of reason available at my fingertips (AKA my Mom) to bring my back to earth. The lights dim, it’s time for my first class to start.