She was adopted into a middle-class German-speaking Mennonite family as an infant. So Elfie believed that’s who she was. Elfie was a free spirit. She’d dance and talk to the animals and sing – peculiar behaviour in the strict, religious, structured home where it seemed everything was a sin. “I felt like I didn’t belong, but you didn’t question adults in that household. Ostracized and mistreated, childhood was nothing short of torturous. “It was physically, sexually, emotionally and spiritually abusive,” she says.
Her dad abused her as far back as she can remember. The night she arrived home late from her boyfriend’s house was no different. Enraged, he threw the 15-year-old across the room, called her a slut and told her she had two weeks to move out. She left that night. Enough was enough.
She struggled with substances to fill the void she felt being alone – a habit she continued even after she got married. The drinking and drug use stopped immediately when she became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter in 1983. “I was using substances searching for love,” Elfie says. “But I saw pure love in this little baby’s eyes.” With her husband getting more aggressive, she kicked him out within a year. But before long, there was another man in the picture. She slid back into addiction and this time Elfie knew she had no alternative but to enter treatment.
She has been clean and sober for nearly 30 years. Growing up, she never imagined she was First Nations, but life’s path led her to a healer and to elders, who unearthed her roots. It wasn’t until 1996, when she was in her 30s, that she learned she is half Irish and half Haida. “My resilience has come through cultural knowledge, knowing who I am and finding my family,” says Elfie. “We need to know the land where we come from – wherever it is.”
She’s now an Aboriginal Victim Support Worker at Surrey Women’s Centre. It’s not work, but a calling. “I like to say I walk beside a woman until she’s strong enough to walk on her own. “I believe we all struggle to survive and overcome. Even those in the depths of addiction…very few have completely given up. It’s something greater than ourselves. We pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off.”
After her adoptive father died, her mom had a stroke. Her sister told Elfie she should move in with their mother. Despite her miserable upbringing, she said yes. She cared for her for 10 years. “She became my friend,” Elfie says, describing how the two told stories and healed old wounds. “I think there was a reason I ended up there. Everything that happens, the Creator puts there for our learning.”