The Bannock Lady Speaks – One Year Later

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The day I started out, I had no real plan in mind, I just knew I could no longer just sit and be idle. I could no longer let my people suffer alone, cold and hungry.

I thought of the ones I see out on the street asking for money, I thought of them as I cooked, how cold they looked. “Oh this chili will warm them up pretty good,” I thought to myself. They looked surprised when I first showed up, asking me how much it cost.

“It’s free and made with love, in honour of the village our people once had,” I quipped.

“Oh, thank you,” they would reply and “bless you.”

I was hooked from the get-go; I knew I was needed and I had to keep going.

I took the last serving of chili and bannock from the first day of Got Bannock?, Jan. 30, 2013, and placed it on my dad’s grave as a feast dish. I smudged, cried to him of what I had just done, asked him to help me do whatever I needed to do for them and to give me the strength to follow through.

I had found my purpose and set off on a course — a spiritual course, it would turn out — of helping my people, bringing them hope and love and much-needed sustenance while providing a voice of empowerment, advocacy and support.

Got Bannock? was born from the very heart of the people who are kept in poverty, kept in 1970s social assistance rates, a poverty that gives no mercy to young, old and disabled alike.

Everyone is at the mercy of this unyielding fist of the social-welfare system. There is simply not enough money given. I meet people whom I consider elders who are living on couches because they don’t get enough money for rent. They are wearing runners in the middle of winter, they are worrying about the next month and where they will stay next. At their age, shelter is the last thing they should have to worry about. What if it were your grandma who was homeless?

Society today needs to erase the stereotypes we’ve been trained to see. We need to realize this is not a choice; poverty and homelessness are the direct outcome of the system not providing enough for basic needs to be met. It’s not providing enough to live a healthy life, to be able to seek out opportunities, to get ahead. The system is so geared against us we are doing everything we can just to eat.

Next time you see a homeless person staggering, ask yourself how would you feel if you were cold and hungry. Wouldn’t you, too, be staggering around?

Changes to the social-welfare system need to be made today. Programs need to be upgraded, affordable housing needs to built. Homeless villages that are being built in other countries would work here if we had enough people to work together and if the materials and a small patch of land were donated.

If we came together as a society and said, “No more,” I’m certain we could eradicate homelessness. We as citizens of Winnipeg should be ashamed that this is being allowed to go on.

In honour of the village we once had, I am striving to be the change I want to see. I am providing for the people who don’t have enough.

I am certain that this would have been my traditional role in my ancestral village, a village where each and every person was a contributing factor toward the survival of the village, where each and every person was taken care of and provided for and where every member held roles and responsibilities toward the daily routine and we lived as a thriving connected community.

Miigwetch for all the tremendous support.

Here is a poem I wrote regarding stereotypes. I hope it provides a different perspective for you:

Through My Eyes

in your eyes

you see an abandoned mother

through my eyes

i see a proud woman who is strong enough to raise a family on her own

in your eyes

you see a welfare bum

through my eyes

i see a resilient person striving to provide for the well-being of their family

in your eyes

you see a homeless person

through my eyes

i see the result of a nation of people torn from their ancestral roots

in your eyes

you see a sniffer

through my eyes

i see a person lost because of past abuse, neglect and torture

in your eyes

you see a prostitute

through my eyes

i see a sister who has fallen to modern society’s addictive and demeaning ways

in your eyes

you see an inmate

through my eyes

i see one of our traditional warriors who was meant to protect his people

in your eyes

you see a rundown community

through my eyes

i see a great nation of people, weary, but still persevering

in your eyes

you see what society has taught you to see

through my eyes

i see my people.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 2, 2014 A5

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