At the Niagara Regional Native Centre’s annual Christmas party Destiny Bailey wore an undersized Santa hat with a taupe-coloured sweater dress and cracked wise with the volunteer cooks in the centre’s kitchen.
At their Halloween party she wrote “blessed” over her left eye in marker and wore a black hoodie. She joked that she was dressed as a thug.
She spent much of that October night doing the “Monster Mash” with costumed kids.
You would never know by looking at her that she was 17 years clean of cocaine.
“I’m not afraid to tell my story because this is who I was. It’s not who I am today,” Bailey said.
Bailey was born to a multiracial family. Her father was part-Mexican, part-Indigenous. Her mother was German and Irish, and her grandmother on her dad’s side was Blackfoot.
“I was a really good kid. I went to school, got straight As, finished Grade 12,” she told The Lake Report in a phone interview.
Bailey grew up in Winnipeg and left when she was about 25. After that everything changed.
In Montreal, life took a turn and she began toiling as a sex worker. After six years she started smoking cocaine.
She smiles today, thankful that she never used needles and her arms are free of track marks.
She recalls being in and out of jail for minor offences and a stint for prostitution in 1999.
“I didn’t know who to reach out to for help,” she said.
Leaving Montreal behind, Bailey moved to Niagara and had a child with a new partner.
“He was very abusive to my child and myself,” she said.
Wrestling with the two-headed beast of addiction and abuse, Bailey made the choice to leave her child with her mother-in-law. At the time, it had been years since she had spoken with her own mother.
Bailey describes it as her lowest moment.
“My mom was my biggest supporter while I was locked up,” Bailey said.
Bailey remembers when she was young her mother could be a bit strict. She didn’t understand at the time why she was always the one doing the chores when her brother wasn’t.
Looking back she says her mother “just wanted to make sure I could be an independent woman.”
Bailey is thankful for the support of her mother-in-law and is happy to say she still has a relationship with her daughter.
“I got busted with a lot of drugs and did penitentiary time and that’s when I woke up,” she said.
After being arrested Bailey was sentenced to “two years plus a day,” but was put up for parole after six months.
“I was like ‘Yeah, I can’t do this again.’ ”
The way out was hard, though.
“Nobody wants to hire you. You don’t have an education for say 20-some odd years,” she added.
Bailey ended up moving to Elliot Lake to take a job in a friend’s restaurant. That’s when she decided to go back to school.
Bailey got a diploma in native child and family services from Confederation College and decided to move back to Winnipeg. She worked a variety of jobs but the fit was never quite right.
Eventually work brought her back to Niagara, and in 2019, she landed at the native centre’s Abbey House, a transitional home for indigenous women at risk of being homeless.
It’s one of the many social support programs run out of the Niagara Regional Native Centre in NOTL.
“I really, at the age of 61 right now, I love my job so much,”
At Abbey House, Bailey works with vulnerable Indigenous women. Some are at risk of homelessness, many come from abusive households or are living with intergenerational trauma.
“They’re traumatized from everything that they’ve been put through, whether it’s been abuse, whether it’s been shame,” Bailey said.
Indigenous communities in Niagara are particularly vulnerable to the problems Bailey talks about. Many Indigenous families have inherited the traumatic experiences of parents and grandparents who were put through Canada’s residential school system.
Others were snatched from their families in the 1960s and adopted out, primarily to white families.
The ’60s Scoop, as it is now called, is estimated to have separated 20,000 Indigenous children from their biological parents and cultural heritage.
“They took away their language, they took away their culture, they took away their beliefs. And they raised them to be in the white world. And they didn’t listen,” Bailey said.
She remembers that a lot of doors were closed to her because of her skin colour.
“I encourage the women not to give up. If one door’s closed, one window will open,” she said.
Bailey looks at the life she has now and feels blessed to be in a position to help.
“I still struggle with my boundaries, because I care about people so much,” she said.
“If I don’t have a solid clear boundary, I’m either enabling them to keep doing what they’re doing, and I’m burning myself out, or not helping them.”
It’s a fine balance but she feels her time with the native centre has really helped her grow.
“I finally really, really deeply truly love myself.”