Street Stories – Andrew Cardinal

Jule Asterisk
Slave Lake Homeless Coalition

The first time Andrew stayed outside was in 2017, when he came back to Slave Lake, after more than a decade away. He had gone to High Level with his wife to live with her elderly grandmother before she passed on. Andrew worked at Tolko in High Level until getting laid off; then he worked for LaPrairie doing highway maintenance until funding for roads ran out in 2016.

Before the pandemic, Andrew was living in his buddy’s yard in a tent in Slave Lake, and paying him $300/m for this privilege, while showering at the Friendship Centre. He has family here in town, but he can’t stay with them.

Andrew came from a hard place. His parents were both alcoholics but they died when he was 16 and he has been on his own since then. Andrew grew up in Sandhills, Alberta, outside LaCrete, where he went to school with Mennonites. He says they are good people. Andrew describes his father as ‘tired of being there.’ and the whole family moved to High Level where it turned out that the father actually wanted a different wife, and he left his family. One year after his father left them, the man passed away. Andrew’s mother had cancer and died eight years later.

When Andrew turned 16, Children’s Services gave him a choice. He could go to foster care or go to work and take care of himself. Andrew’s first job was picking rocks for farmers when he was 10 years old. He was delivering pizza and washing dishes when his mom passed on, so he decided to carry on working and take care of himself.

Andrew’s grandfather on his father’s side ‘took scrip’. This means that he sold his ‘Indian status’, becoming ‘enfranchised’, a practice common in the early to mid 1900s. Settlers at the time made big money buying up ‘scrips’ and the land rights that went with them; many Indigenous people of the day didn’t believe they could ever give up their ‘nativeness’ by accepting money for a piece of paper. Even though Andrew’s family didn’t have Indian status anymore, they all went to residential school. His mother was at Grouard mission until her father took her out of there and up north to get away. She never did get any compensation, and Andrew doesn’t think she knew about the process to grant compensation. Andrew himself, starting at the age of eight months, and his brothers and sisters went to a residential school called Hilltop Mission in Fort Vermilion, however this particular residential school was never recognized by the government inquiry.

Andrew suffers trauma from residential school. He had a hard time being able to cry for most of his life. He says, “My sister told me that when I was a little baby, if I cried they would put a wrap over my mouth, and wrap my arms and legs together. All my life, I would feel like crying and I couldn’t. When my best friend died, I couldn’t even cry … I felt the pain, but the tears wouldn’t come out.”

After his sister told him about these traumatic events in his childhood, he started to be able to cry, but then he couldn’t stop. When Andrew’s sister passed on in 2020, he cried for four days straight.

As a participant in the Community Friendship Temporary Mat Program, Andrew says, “I appreciate the Mat Program. I am thankful for it because if it wasn’t here, I’d be freezing outside.”

Andrew really wants to address his health issues. He needs dental work, and only has “one good tooth left, and even that one is getting bad.” He doesn’t have a health number, and the last time he tried to get one, they asked him to send his tax information and the date when he had returned to Canada. That question really threw Andrew off, as he has never left the country. He just paid to have his painful teeth removed and now he needs a bridge.

For the future, Andrew would love to get a sponsor and gain his tickets, get his license back, and have full employment. He goes to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings when he can, but they have been hard to get to with COVID protocols.
Andrew needs to get proper ID documents and a bank account as well. Long term plans include helping street people once Andrew is able to manage his own alcoholism.

Andrew would like our community to know that homelessness is not as simple as drug addicts and alcoholics. If people need help, if they honestly need a hand up, they can’t get it because of being judged. Andrew wants to help make sure that no-one else goes through what he has gone through. He wants to help make life better for future generations, not just for himself.

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