Globeandmail.com

Where youth comes at a price
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In this city's large aboriginal community,
children born to teens not uncommon


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By JILL MAHONEY 
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Wednesday, July 17, 2002 – Print Edition, Page A6


Pamela Poole smokes on a sunny patio at a youth drop-in centre, watching as 2½-year-old Makayla steers a toy tricycle with the zeal of a race-car driver. Now 19, she was the 17th person in her extended family to have a baby at age 17.

Upstairs, Carla Black perches on a tiny chair making Play-Doh cookies with her boisterous boys, seven-year-old Jonathan and six-year-old Cameron. One of 11 children, the 26-year-old has three kids of her own.

As the two women know well, Saskatoon is teeming with youth, a fact confirmed by yesterday's release of Statistics Canada census data indicating the city has the youngest population of all the country's major centres.

"We're lucky to have that situation in front of us, from what I can see, because that would mean it's vibrant and has got a great future," said Larry Deters, Statscan's assistant regional director for Saskatchewan.

Using median age, the point whereby exactly half the population is older and the other half is younger, Saskatoon rings in at 34.4 years.

Saskatoon's overall youth, demographers say, is largely based on the fact the northern centre attracts a significant number of aboriginals, who tend to have more children at a younger age than the non-native population. In 1996, when the last data on ancestry were released, 27.5 per cent of the city's natives were aged 19 and under.

Within the first nations population, and to a lesser degree among non-natives, social challenges are keenly felt. Take Ms. Black, a Cree who is the second eldest of 11 children.

At 13, she left the foster parents who raised her for the streets, where she discovered drugs and alcohol and had an abortion at 14. A few years later, she gave birth to a daughter, Ashley, who is now 8 and lives with her father. Her two sons, Jonathan and Cameron, lived in foster care until 2½ years ago, when she got them back after finally kicking her addictions. Now eking out an existence on welfare, Ms. Black has decided to have no more children and has had her tubes tied.

"I didn't want my kids to grow up like how I grew up, in and out of care, my mom having so many kids and not being able to look after them," she said, sitting in a quiet corner of Egadz, the drop-in centre where she and Ms. Poole and dozens of teens and young adults come for support.

Ms. Black's former lifestyle is all too common in Saskatoon, said Major Wayne McDonough, the executive director of the city's Salvation Army community centre.

"A lot of the youth in the city, they're on their own. Breaking the cycle, it's easier said than done."

Ms. Poole is trying desperately to do her best for Makayla, and has been coming for two years to the teen-parenting classes that helped Ms. Black get on her feet. She, too, is on welfare and lives with her boyfriend, mother and brother. Among her extended family, Ms. Poole was the 17th to get pregnant at 17; now her 17-year-old cousin is expecting.

"A lot of the people in my family were really young when they had kids; my mom's aunts are younger than her and stuff. It's kinda weird," she said.

Saskatchewan, Statistics Canada has found, is a province of extremes when it comes to age.

People in Saskatoon, with the youngest population of the country's 27 metropolitan areas, and Regina, which is Canada's seventh-youngest city, are more youthful than those in rural areas. When combined, the two cities' median age is 35.1 years, significantly younger than the rest of the province, which is 38.5 years.


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