Candace was born in Opaskwayak Cree Nation in The Pas, Manitoba. She first lived with her birth parents, and later with her mother and three siblings. Her aunt also lived with them until Candace was four-years-old.
A violent outside influence was allowed in the home causing the four children to be placed into care.
For the next nine years, the children lived in a foster home that was very strict, void of compassion, and also subjected the siblings to physical and verbal abuse. Although not the oldest child, Candace was the leader and the most defiant, talking back to her foster mom and eventually leaving the home at age 13, after fighting many sad and losing battles.
During her elementary school years, she was not prepared for kindergarten and had a tutor help her with spelling and simple mathematics. In grade 2, she was never provided a packed lunch so she resorted to stealing lunches at recess. “I was discovering life and how to survive,” says Candace.
In middle school, she started to excel at sports and music. It helped her escape her troubles, as practices were held before and after school classes, limiting her time at home. Candace was a whiz on the Ultimate Frisbee team and played the clarinet proficiently enough to start believing in herself and build confidence.
She also was a great swimmer and became a certified lifeguard. “I like saving people, people similar to me, who are in a position where they can’t save themselves,” says Candace. This coincided with volunteering every day at the YMCA in the daycare, pool, as well as in evening classes and adult classes – anything to keep busy and be away from home.
She was also fortunate to have an eighth-grade teacher who was Indigenous. That teacher became her ‘school mom.’ “She signed me up for sports and other activities because my foster mom couldn’t be bothered. My teacher also taught me how to calm myself and introduced me to the positive aspects of my culture, which was a first for me.” During this time, Candace moved to another foster home for two years and then moved again to a very unhealthy home full of ‘street people’. Her foster parents were completely negligent and on drugs and she stayed in that home for one year before moving in with her ex-boyfriend’s parents to finish high school.
Even with all of this upheaval, Candace continued to excel on the clarinet and when the high school band traveled to their sister school in Japan, she was second chair. The position was unheard of for a grade 10 student. Candace graduated high school with average grades, but above-average life experience that would serve her well.
At 18-years-old with an uncertain future, Candace entered Marymound’s Independent Options Program (IOP) as a very motivated, independent, and goal-oriented young woman. Marymound staff helped her to search for an apartment as well as assisting with the packing, moving, and financial arrangements. While the tangible things were necessary, it was the positive connections and safe and supportive team that was most important to Candace. “I had already developed a lot of skills on my own but it was comforting to know they were there to support me whenever I needed them,” says Candace.
She also worked in the Marymound kitchen, learning to prepare lunches and dinners while enjoying many leftovers. “I had plenty of free food to take home with me after work which allowed me to eat and eat and eat.” She gained a further sense of community connection by keeping busy in the Student Work Experience Education program (SWEEP) by doing yard work around nearby neighbourhoods, earning valuable spending money. “I was always asking for extra hours and showing up without being asked.”
Despite the hardships she experienced beginning with her first foster mom, Candace is insightful enough to realize the positives from her experience. The strict ‘yes or no’ upbringing and being forced to read a lot of books, as well as constantly arguing back and forth, influenced her decision to enter pre-law at the University of Winnipeg. “I’m very appreciative of all the help Marymound provided me. Their bursary program paid most of my university tuition the last two years, in addition to making me feel that I mattered by giving me a sense of belonging which I never really had before.”
It was a difficult time to learn at university during the pandemic and Candace struggled, but enjoyed her anthropology and sociology studies. Always optimistic and always prepared, she has a backup plan to become a paramedic if she needs to look at another career option.
Candace’s resilience and positive attitude is remarkable. She is thriving but knows what it is like to feel helpless. That is reflected in her choice of professions, where she can help others that are vulnerable.
Now 19, Candace is a little apprehensive as she officially ages out of care later this year, but she is a survivor with the inner drive and moxy to take care of herself. Candace also knows she can call on Marymound at any time for support and guidance.