Shelby Beaatz Sappier. Community

français / Mi’kmaq

Natalie Sappier (Samaqani Cocahq). Owl Skull. 2013

Coming from a small community where people share common identity, sense of place as well as the same cultural aspects of life, some would consider this to be a form of unity. A place where people support one another, respect each other, grow together through adversity and overcome barriers. It’s a place where you’re connected like a family and you strive to be the best they can possibly be. Where you come from is your roots.

We all have stories of our own, from our upbringing to our personal experiences. These moments and memories are what make us who we are. We all want to see the world and become something our community could be proud of. I want to show you what community is through one young man’s eyes and experiences.

Growing up, life was never easy. From being young in an unseen world to being a grown adult who has seen it all, both have their ups and downs. Everyone who comes from a small community wishes to see the world for what it is. People say “make the most of what you have.” Well, this is something this young man most certainly lived by. The small community in which the young man was based and his large family who didn’t have much financially held him back from exploring the outside world. The imagination of his youth became remarkable as it allowed him to not only find peace but excitement within his surroundings. Each day, he embarked on a journey to find himself and explore the world.

Friends who grew up without fathers in their lives, many his age, were those he surrounded himself with. Although he was raised by his mother and father, his father sacrificed a lot of time outside of the community providing for his family. This is where he related most with those he called friends. Together they thrived from the break of dawn and found ways to keep themselves occupied, whether it was playing baseball, hockey, or simply biking throughout the neighborhood until the sun went down. They did everything and anything together. With only a corner store that sold candy, one friend might steal a few dollars from his mother’s purse while the other did chores around the house to earn a few bucks. They always found a way to acquire what they desired.

At the end of each day, coming home was always the hardest part. Not because the young man didn’t want to be there, but because he never had a room to call his own. Being the youngest of four brothers with one younger sister in a mid-sized home, space was always limited. The shortage of housing had been a problem for many years. Over time, mold had begun to form on the living room walls. Every time it rained, it got worse. This resulted in health problems that no one wanted to endure. These were just a few of the circumstances his family dealt with on a daily basis. But that didn’t hold him back from dreaming each night.

The young man came from a place where many people were alcoholics or drug abusers and collecting social assistance just to get by. He knew that he never wanted to become one of those people, as he knew that way of life was toxic. He never wanted to fall into that “trap”, which is what most people considered it to be. He always wanted to be more than just a statistic. He wanted to become a role model (which there weren’t many of in his community) and to show those who lacked the hope of becoming someone that you can be something in life with hard work. He consistently worked on becoming just that to many community members.

Education was never a strong point for him (and for numerous others in the community), but always a necessity. With a school in the community that many students attended as well as one in the nearby town, many parents sent their kids outside the community to get what they thought was the best education possible with no distractions. This worked for the most part. Many of the kids excelled academically, but as they grew up, they started to experiment with various things as most young adults do. First, it was marijuana. Then it was alcohol. Eventually the consumption became excessive. The young man was no exception. Eventually he began doing the exact things he promised himself he would never do. Peer pressure was an issue as friends began experimenting, and the excessive consumption started to become a part of daily life. His actions would result in a decision his parents hated to make. He would be sent away from his community, into another, with hopes of bettering his behavior. This was common within the community for young teens who have gotten out of control.

For two years, the young man worked on bettering himself with the help of an elderly man who he considered to be a savior. Like most young adults within the community, he needed someone to vent to when in need. Unfortunately, not everyone had a confidant. The young man was taught to survive using the teachings of his ancestors. This gave him a greater outlook and understanding of life in general. Culture is important to the indigenous people. Unfortunately, the language and teachings of his community were dying out. Luckily for him, these ways saved him from becoming the person he never wanted to be. The teachings allowed him to dig deep within his roots to find a greater appreciation of who he is and where he comes from.

Many people find escape through different things. For some, it’s reading books or, writing poems ; for others, it’s exercising or listening to music. Everyone develops a talent of their own. The young man found his escape in writing. This gave him a way to not only express himself but also to connect with those who read his work. His means of escape lead the young man to a career in writing and performing. Although he was away from home a lot, he remembered what his mother instilled in him, to never forget where you came from. He missed his friends, his family and the community he called home, but at the end of the day, he knew that what he was doing was the right thing. He knew in his heart that he would find his way back home when the time was right.

This is how he avoided the trouble and toxic ways of some people within the community. Temptations hounded him continuously as he watched the friends he grew up with deteriorate. Some never worked a day in their lives, some drank profusely while others sold drugs. Distance grew fonder but his sights became clearer on what he needed to do in order to succeed in life. He would write from the heart in a relatable sense. He would shed light on what the community experiences and what people face on a daily basis. He wanted to show the world that there’s more to life than sitting back wishing for what could’ve been as opposed to working for what you could be. Eventually, people would start to listen and begin to appreciate the talent that he possessed.

Like most people within the community, they people around him supported one another. Showing that he has worked tirelessly without giving up gave people hope, motivation, drive and inspiration. Statistically, one in 10 people move outside the community to further their education, work a trade, become an entrepreneur or simply travel the world. These people hate to rely on someone to get them to where they want to be in life. The young man was one of those community members who changed his ways at a young age, found something he was passionate about and excelled tremendously.

As he continues his journey in life, as many others will, the young man knows within his heart that he would never be where he is today without the community that raised him. From the struggles that many experience, from the pain that most endure, to the excitement of achieving what he set his mind to, the young man knew inside that it was possible to become anything that he envisioned for himself. Not many members of his community find sincere happiness, as most feel trapped, but many have genuine love for the place they call home. Like the young man’s mother had told him, never forget where you came from. Because that exact place is where you were born and raised in and will always be a part of your story. How the young man visualizes the sense of community today is different than how he once did. From the unity that keeps everyone tied together, to the home in which he was born and the relationships he formed over the years, he now understands what community means to him. It’s where the heart is. It’s where he was raised to become the man that he is today. Without this place, there would be no him.


Shelby Beaatz Sappier
Published in No 17. Creating Community

Shelby Beaatz Sappier. Photo : Annie France Noël

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