It is 1969. Paulette Steeves, a ward of the provincial government and incorrigible runaway, has been incarcerated here since the age of 13.
“We were extremely poor,” says Steeves. Born in Whitehorse, her childhood was cut from the cloth of aboriginal marginalization. “My mom was an alcoholic. My parents split when I was five. My stepdad used to beat the shit out of her.”
By the age of 12, Steeves was running away regularly. She dropped out of school, picked apples, panhandled, and made her way to Vancouver, where she survived as a street kid before landing in Willingdon at age 13.
“My mother, who was 80 per cent native, warned us never to tell anyone we were Indians,” she says. The reason was heartbreaking: Long before Paulette and and her siblings were born, her mother had two children who were taken from her by authorities and put up for adoption.“She never saw them again, and she never, ever got over it,” says Steeves. “Because of that, it was really important to her to hide our Indian-ness.”
Part of racism is who is included and who is excluded, socially, economically and historically. Steeves grew up on the outside, excluded first from her own culture, and also outside of mainstream white culture.
READ: ‘Just watch me’: Challenging the ‘origin story’ of Native Americans | Vancouver Sun