A housing shortage and health care needs forced 25-year-old Rebekka Drake out of Eabametoong First Nation last year and into Thunder Bay, but new challenges in the city took away her children and almost took her life.
Now the young mother of five is trying to get her kids back.
"I was just struggling with housing, wanting to get out of the reserve," Drake said of her life a little more than year ago in Eabametoong.
She and her five children were living in her parents' two bedroom home. Her youngest child has a seizure disorder and there was little care for the baby in the remote First Nation, about 350 km northeast of Thunder Bay.
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"It was rough," Drake said. "I screwed up big time. It cost me my kids. Alcohol screwed me up big time. I made a bad decision and now I’ve been without my kids for almost a year now."
The child welfare agency, Dilico Anishnabek Family Care, took Drake’s children into care.
"Being without them is hard," she said. "Just missing them and not being able to hold them, not being able to tell them I love them everyday."
Without her children, Drake said she spiralled into despair and "bottomed out." A close friend and his girlfriend moved into her apartment last August. An all-day party fuelled by a "table full of booze" in September ended with the apartment in a blaze. Her friend died in the fire.
Weeks on life support
"Alcohol took a lot away from me, a lot," she said. "It ruined my life, almost took my life. It took my friend’s life.
"It was the worst day of my life, I still struggle with the loss."
Smoke inhalation damaged Drake’s lungs so severely she was on life support for weeks. When she woke up and learned her friend was dead, she wanted to die too.
"I blamed myself for his death, I still struggle with that," she said.
Drake went home to Eabametoong after she was released from hospital. A lung infection left her fighting for her life a second time, and only an emergency tracheostomy saved her.
As she spoke about what made her keep fighting for breath, she stroked a deep, purple scar across her neck.
'I need healing. I need that forgiveness for myself.' —Rebekka Drake
"I thought of my children, I thought of just how heartbroken my kids would be if I died," she said.
"I’m wishing for death and then I’m like, why am I doing that when I have five beautiful children that need me. They’re not under my care, but still they need me, I can’t leave them."
Back home in Eabametoong
Every three months Drake flies out to Thunder Bay to see her youngest son, who lives in a special needs home in the city. The other four are in foster homes in remote communities too far and too expensive to visit, but she said she phones them regularly.
Drake said she is now working two jobs — as a cashier and a teaching assistant back home in Eabametoong — hoping to get her children back.
Asked what what would help her achieve that goal, Drake paused.
"I need healing," she said. "I need that forgiveness for myself, because right now I don’t have that."