Peg Sharing Circle - Exploring the Lived Experience of Poverty - Rhoda Mamakeesic

By Rhoda Mamakeesic, Christa Rust (Interviewer), Jason E.J. Manaigre (Technical Producer) on February 15, 2011

"Housing is the hardest thing for our people."

Rhoda is retired, after over 25 years at the Health Sciences Centre (HSC). She lives in Manitoba Housing. She volunteers a lot, including at Oyate Tipi and Winnipeg Harvest. She is also active in a seniors' group at Kekinan Centre, as well as Bible study groups at her church. She finds it important to both participate in her church and to practice her culture. Rhoda stated that she doesn't feel poor, as she has a roof over her head and enough to eat. Her furniture may be mismatched, but she is comfortable in her home. She has seen the homeless who don't have family or a place to live, and whose lives are affected by drugs and alcohol, and sees more poverty there.

When Rhoda was a child she was sent to residential school. She did not speak English, yet if she didn't obey she was slapped or hit. She recalled that she learned not to cry. Instead, she curbed her emotions and was "just there" -neither happy nor sad. She added that they didn't learn much at residential school, as they didn't have many classes: they spent half of their time in chapel and a lot of time doing chores.

Despite a poor education, Rhoda was very interested in learning. She got a job where her bosses supported training. She was allowed to get her upgrading and then take courses when possible. She worked hard to improve her ability to speak English. She gave the example of how a nurse helped her. Every day this nurse would give her a new word and then she'd use that word throughout the day. During her time at HSC, she worked in housekeeping, as a Nurse's Aid, and then for Aboriginal Services as a translator. She described her time with Aboriginal Services as working both for "her people" and the medical staff, feeling that she was caught between two cultures.

When Rhoda was in her late 20s, she had her daughter. She said that she was into alcohol for a while. No one taught her to go for prenatal care. She was on welfare after her daughter was born but didn't like it. She was told that she would need to pay back all of her welfare money when she went back to work, and so she saved up every penny she could. She had a small apartment with a mattress on the floor. She used crates for furniture and ate out of a frying pan because she didn't have dishes. Rhoda recalls that she didn't know about second hand stores and that no one helped her learn about resources.

Rhoda didn't have much money during her daughter's childhood. She got employment as a maid and put her daughter in daycare. She tried to give her daughter recreational opportunities. For example, when her daughter was four, they both learned to skate: later they both learned to roller skate. Unfortunately, they didn't have money to join teams. Despite her low income, Rhoda said that she tried "not to show her how I felt smaller than everyone else."

Rhoda insisted that she is comfortable now, with her home through Manitoba Housing, as well as her Healthcare Employee Pension Plan, Canada Pension Plan, and pension. She has what she needs, although she worries for her daughter who needs a place to live. She stays busy with her volunteering and other things that don't require money. She said that she now has time to meet anyone and is comfortable talking to anyone who will talk to her.