APTN National News
In the northeast corner of Manitoba, along the shores of Island Lake sits the Garden Hill First Nation.
It’s an isolated community.
When it’s cold, there is a winter road that connects people to the nearest community 18 kilometres away.
In the summer, access is only by boat or air.
On top of the isolation, the people of Garden Hill are dealing with a housing crisis.
“My grandkids all sleep on the floor here as you can see,” said Sharon Beardy. “One mother with two little ones and my four grandkids just sleep anywhere. anywhere possible on the floor.”
Overcrowded housing is the new normal for Garden Hill.
The 3,500 residents share 500 homes.
Three or four families can share one residence at a time.
Beardy has lived in her home for the past eight years. She shares her three-bedroom house with 12 others.
She told APTN the living situation is hardest on her two granddaughters.
“With the two older ones, they’re teenagers, they need their privacy but basically this is their kitchen, living room and their bedroom,” she said.
Kelly Ann Monias, 14, and Natalia Beardy, 12, are Beardy’s granddaughters.
Like most young girls their age, they enjoy listening to music by Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez.
But unlike many young girls across Canada, they do not have a room to call their own.
“It’s really loud and they bother me all the time,” said Moonias.
The Beardy house also have heating issues. They seal cracks in the walls with foam spray and cover the windows outside with plastic for a quick fix.
Despite the crowded conditions and heating issues – the Beardy’s are one of the lucky families. They have running water.
Other homes have to rely on water trucks that make their way around the community three times a week.
Rachel Keno’s home is one without water.
Keno lives with 15 others in her two-bedroom home. Her two teenage children sleep in the living room.
“Everybody has different sleeping patterns so some will try to go to sleep early and they try to go to bed but they can’t because one wakes up and then everyone wakes up everybody else. it’s hard,” said Keno. “Sometimes they all hang out in my room until I kick everybody out. It’s just kind of difficult for them to adjust and everything. there’s just too many people in here.”
Keno’s son Sebastian is 16 years old. At times he has missed school because he doesn’t get enough sleep.
“He tries to go to bed early because he wants to get up for school,” Keno said. “But they keep waking him up because he sleeps right in the living room. Sometimes I’ll put him in my room just for him to fall asleep.”
The lack of privacy is one of the reasons families turn to the chief and council for help.
“Everyday people are knocking at our band office asking for materials, boards to try and make a small room for their children,” said Chief Dino Flett.
According to Flett, Garden Hill needs 500 more homes. He said they haven’t built a decent house in five years because the remoteness makes it difficult to get materials to the community.
He said people are feeling frustrated – and helpless.
“They do have family problems because of overcrowding,” he said. “They need space. We do have social problems too where frustration kicks in for the teenagers. They get depressed. this is a very touchy subject. Even suicide or runaways. These kinds of things that happen in our community. This is what we’re dealing with.”
Some people in Garden Hill said they can’t deal with it anymore. They’ve left the community for Winnipeg.
About 1,000 members, almost a third of the community, now live off reserve.
For the growing population of Garden Hill it’s just too hard a place to have a life.
“There isn’t really any place for me to have privacy unless i go out,” said Victoria Barkman, 17. “But during winter it’s too cold and during summer it’s too hot so i don’t really have a place to have my own privacy.”
Overcrowding isn’t the only problem for kids here. They say there’s not much to do.
Right now there is one sports complex in the community.
Beardy’s granddaughters rely on it when they need to get away from the chaos of home.
“We play hockey and basketball. we always go do that,” said Kelly Ann Monias.
But for teens who don’t like sports, there isn’t anywhere else for them to go.
One teacher at the high school is trying to change that.
George Munroe teaches geography and social studies.
He said he tries to make his classroom a safe haven for his students.
“Certainly the school gives our students a place to go, a place where they can strive for in terms of trying to get their education,” said Munroe.
But a lack of resources means Munroe can only do so much.
There is no education facility beyond the high school meaning students must travel to the city to get further training.
This can be hard on students like Barkman who don’t want to leave – but must if they want to pursue a career.
“We need different courses. sometimes we don’t have the courses that we need to get into a career that we want to and sometimes we have to go into the city for that kind of class,” she said.
For now Flett said council is trying to do as much as they can but the reserve needs assistance from both the federal and provincial governments.
The people who call this place home – do the best they can – and hope for a better future.
“Moving is not the answer. I grew up here. I love my community. I love the people that surround this community,” said Beardy.