Rising to the Challenge
Pollyanna McBain was aptly named.
Originally from the Mi’kmaq community of Eel River Bar First Nation in New Brunswick, Pollyanna is probably the most optimistic person you will ever meet. She has a smile for everyone, especially children (she calls them little people). Despite several challenges, Pollyanna says, “We’ll manage,” a phrase often repeated by her grandmother.
With challenges at home, and six younger siblings to care for, Pollyanna couldn’t finish her schooling. She married a non-Indigenous man and had two children who experienced racism from classmates because of their mother’s heritage. One of her children was diagnosed with a heart murmur which led to trips to the children’s hospital in Halifax, and although that murmur healed itself, doctors discovered a second one when that child was 17.
Pollyanna worked for various levels of government over the years beginning with Employment and Immigration in the early 90s, eventually carving a niche for herself working with Indigenous youth employment and career counseling; working as a social assistance administrator allowed her to expand her reach and work with the elders as well as single parent families.
Pollyanna became a single parent herself when she and her husband separated. Through that, she continued working and getting offered better and better jobs, much to her own surprise. “When you grow up with so much self-doubt, that you’re never enough, and then all these things start happening, and then you start to realize, you are enough,” she says her voice getting softer.
During this time, Pollyanna had several foster children come through her home – 18 teenagers in 23 years. She says it wasn’t easy and there were periods of unemployment, but echoed the words of her grandmother, “We’ll manage.” She also kept going back to school to try and get her Grade 12.
In 2014, Pollyanna came to Fort McMurray where one of her sons lived. She found a job at a grocery store, and it was the community’s generosity during a food drive for the Wood Buffalo Food Bank that convinced her to stay in the region.
A trip to the Nistawoyou Friendship Centre to volunteer turned into a full-time job for Pollyanna where she had a chance to help with the homeless population. She was working there the day of the evacuation from the Horse River fire. While she and her family members were able to safely get out of Fort McMurray, Pollyanna and her partner, Michael, lost their home. To make matters worse, their insurance had run out in April and they had an appointment set for that afternoon to meet with a new agent.
Although Pollyanna has been working for the Fort McMurray Public School Board as a Cultural Navigator for the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Education Program since returning from evacuation, it’s on a contract basis and she and Michael have struggled to make ends meet.
She says she had to use the Food Bank a few times, which was mentally difficult to do. Pollyanna and Michael are still paying a mortgage on a now non-existent home and rent on their current home – like several others in the community.
Like many who experienced total loss, Pollyanna has high praise for those who came to her assistance, including Fort McKay First Nation, her home community in New Brunswick, and the Red Cross.
What keeps Pollyanna going through all her challenges? Pollyanna’s belief in her Indigenous teachings and culture, her daily prayers of gratitude to the Creator, and her grandmother’s words, “We’ll manage” all combine to keep her spirit lifted.