Saskatchewan·Special Report

Raising a daughter in a world of the missing and murdered

Single mother Brandy Maxie is parenting to protect her children from the risks they face because they are First Nations.

Single mom Brandy Maxie knows her children face risks because of their race

Valyncia Sparvier and mom Brandy Maxie. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

Everything Brandy Maxie does now is to save her children from the rough adolescence she had.

"I was victimized in ways I wouldn't wish upon my daughter, I wouldn't wish upon anybody else," she said.

Maxie was 15 when she left her home.

She said her parents worked tirelessly and tried to help everyone that needed it on the White Bear First Nation. They were entrepreneurs, took care of foster children in their home and served as support workers for suicide prevention on the reserve.

"We had quite a few family members who committed suicide," Maxie said.

When she chose to leave the reserve all those years ago, she said it was because it had all become too much.

"I've experienced a lot of the on-reserve issues and a lot of it has to do with alcohol and drugs and violence and there are good things, I love the reserve, but I also saw a lot of the negative things that were happening."

Maxie explained she was trying to escape the hopeless negativity of reserve life; but she left only to be swallowed up by a predatory city.

"It was kind of my first experience with how the city life was," she said. "I was 15 and I am walking to school every day and walking to daycare to pick up my little cousins."

When you're living poor, people treat you pretty bad, especially if you're an indigenous woman.- Brandy Maxie

She moved directly into Regina's North Central neighbourhood where she attended school. She said she felt scared most of the time and had to walk everywhere she went.

"I had vehicles following me … I remember throwing sticks at a vehicle because it was trying to chase me and a friend down."

Maxie said her teenage years were filled with tough trials. Good things happened; she met the father of her children and graduated from high school on time.

Bad things happened, too.

Maxie said at age 16 she was drugged and raped. When she regained consciousness, she was filled with fear.

"When I woke up I was very dizzy and didn't know where I was.  I made a break for the door," Maxie said.

"It was unreported because I learned very fast I didn't want to be considered a rat, didn't want to be at the police station."

Maxie said after she graduated Grade 12, she moved back to the reserve with a man she met. They had a child together in 2004.

They named the baby girl Valyncia Sparvier.

No escape from the 'hood'

Brandy Maxie talks about how she talks to her daughter about the risks she faces as a First Nations woman. 0:29

It wouldn't be long before Maxie found herself back in North Central.

She said, for a while, life back on her reserve was good. She and her partner had a daughter and a son together. A stable family life seemed possible. But, it didn't work out.

Maxie moved herself and her two children back to Regina. She said she didn't want to give up on her dreams. She wanted to pursue post-secondary education. She wanted a car and a safe home for her two children.

But the only places she could afford and the only people who would rent to her were in North Central.

"There were people walking by drunk every day," Brandy said. "Sometimes with my kids, we'd walk to the park and no word of a lie someone followed every single time. They'd turn in to the alley. They'd make some kind of a signal. It was just too much for me."

For a year her children lived with their father, back on the reserve, while Maxie went to school, looked for employment and couch-surfed. Maxie said although it hurt her heart, she had to get her children away from the area.

During this time she said that not having a car made every trip out of whatever house she was calling home, scary.

"I always felt unsafe. I didn't want my kids to be seeing a lot of that," Maxie said.

A fresh start

Brandy Maxie talks about her struggle to leave a bad neighbourhood where she faced racism. 1:02

Maxie's break came in the form of a job interview in Saskatoon. The chance at a new life came just in time, after years of living in fear in Regina, unable to escape what she called the "hood." She was afraid her dreams would die there.

"I just kind started feeling hopeless," she said. "Like, I can't get a decent paying job. I can't do this. I can't do that. When you're living poor, people treat you pretty bad, especially if you're an indigenous woman. They really do."

Maxie said it was a long journey that lead her to Saskatoon. She won her way through First Nations' entrepreneurial competitions. She explained that she often wore sweatshirts to the presentations because she was too poor to buy a blazer.

Racism made her more determined to succeed

Valyncia Sparvier and mom Brandy Maxie, ringside at Nelson Boxing. (Madeline Kotzer)
Physically my appearance, I look like what they would stereotype as a prostitute.- Brandy Maxie

"Me, walking to a business planning competition and somebody yells 'how much?' or tries to stop me," she said "They're not driving by and thinking 'oh no, she looks like she's trying to do good in her life, I'm going to leave her alone'. Physically my appearance, I look like what they would stereotype as a prostitute."

Now Maxie lives on Saskatoon's east side in a modest duplex with her three children. She is working hard to make her dreams of franchising her own fitness company a reality.

Her two sons, ages six and eight, both have health challenges. Her eldest and only daughter, 11-year-old Valyncia, is always by her side.

Parenting First Nations children in a world of missing and murdered

Brandy Maxie talks about the fear she felt growing up because she was indigenous and the fact she does not want her daughter to feel fear. 0:58

Maxie said she vividly remembers the first time her daughter, Valyncia Sparvier, understood the danger she faced because she is aboriginal.

Maxie was at an outdoor fitness class at a school in Regina. Her three children were playing nearby at the school's park. A man in a red truck pulled up and parked near the children.

She said she watched in terror as the man tried to lure her young daughter to the car.

"Valyncia, she is so protective, so she immediately grabbed her brothers and went closer to the school building and was calling for me," she said

"We had the discussion; sometimes people will follow you because you are a native girl."

Maxie said as her daughter grew older, she began to ask questions about what it meant to be a "missing or murdered indigenous woman." She was honest and told her daughter about the women they knew who were missing.

Maxie's cousin Danita Bigeagle went missing almost 10 years ago in Regina. And five-year-old Tamra Keepness, who disappeared in Regina in 2004, was also from their home reserve, White Bear First Nation.

"Your physical appearance, just being native, is going to put you at a higher risk for certain things than a non-First Nations person and that's just the way it is right now," Maxie said of her conversation with Valyncia.

This year, Sparvier wrote an award-winning speech about the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women. Initially she chose the topic for her Grade 6 public speaking assignment. Now, the pre-teen is speaking at events across the province, aimed at raising awareness about the issue.

Maxie said she believes it is important that her daughter learns to have her own voice, but she does not want her to live in fear.

"I have lived in fear. I have been a victim. I don't identify with it anymore but a lot of my parenting comes from my past experiences."

Fighting for a brighter future

Brandy Maxie talks about the hope she has for a brighter future. 1:02

In her speech, Sparvier speaks about the need for women, especially First Nations', to have self-defence skills.

"I think we should take self-defence courses so that's what I have been doing for a while," Sparvier says of her weekly boxing lessons at Nelson Boxing Club.

"If any of them almost get abducted, or something like that, it's good that they know self-defence so that they can protect themselves," the girl said of her peers, who she speaks to about the issue.

It's the first time where were really feeling hopeful.- Brandy Maxie

Maxie said she is proud of her daughter's strength and feels with a little more hard work, they`ll be able to achieve their goal: to live comfortably and go to Disneyland.

"I told the kids 'I've got to work really, really hard and we're barely going to scrape by, but I will always find a way. But, one day were going to be totally fine. I just want to live comfortably."

Now, Maxie is thankful that she no longer lives in a mouldy house in North Central. However, her older van is in need of repair and things still get tight at the end of the month.

Despite this, Maxie is determined to raise strong children who will learn to fight like she did for a brighter future.

"It's the first time where we're really feeling hopeful."


CBC Saskatchewan is taking a closer look this week at missing and murdered indigenous women cases in the province. We are exploring everything from how mothers are raising their daughters differently to the role men play in finding a solution to what more needs to be done. 

We've also launched a way you can tell your story about how a missing and murdered indigenous case has touched your life. Share your story here

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.