My name is Margaret Hunder. I was born in Pouce Coupe, BC, in 1955. I moved to Dawson Creek when I was 6 years old. I come from a line of strong advocates. I had two parents who made sure I went to regular school and had every opportunity to learn like all the other kids. Everyone in this town knows it.
In 1970, when I was 16 years old, I joined the local Community Living Society. It cost $55 a month to attend the sheltered workshop. We were paid 5 cents a week in the Ribbon Room. By 1974 we were being paid 25 cents a week and eventually by 1991 we made up to $100 a month. We worked hard sewing prize ribbons for 4H contests and school track meets for all of Northern BC and into Alberta too. It was because I went to school and could count well that I was in charge of all the inventory of the Ribbon Room. The Society pushed us to learn and work hard and I’m proud of what I accomplished. I worked there for 21 years.
I started a work experience when I was 19 in one of our local retail stores. After 3 months I was still working without pay. My parents and I complained to the Employment Standards Board and things started to change. People started to realize self advocates should be paid at least minimum wage for our work.
On July 14th, 1982, I became the first President of People First of Dawson Creek with 14 paid up members. I was the President for 6 years and the Treasurer of 17 years after that. In 1989 we had 49 paid up members. We had bylaws that said you couldn’t be a member unless you were someone on Person’s with a Disability Pension (PWD). I was elected to represent Dawson Creek on the Provincial People First Board from 1985-1990.
Every year People First of Dawson Creek raised money to send members to Vancouver for the provincial People First meetings. We had bake sales held at the Co-op. We had Halloween Dances at a hall with a pot luck supper and dance with music by my father, Gordon Miller. We had a Christmas party once a year and put on house warming parties. We sold tickets for a side of beef, side of pork and 25lbs and 15lbs turkeys. We did very well on this raffle and sold 800 tickets. We sold raffle tickets for a quilt and 24 case of oil, as well as a painted picture and food hamper. We had car washes held at the co-op parking lot and bake sales at the Friendship Centre. We held a barbeque every year at the homes of different members. One time we had more that 65 people at the barbeque and more than one time we had the doctor come and speak. We had the barbeque at group homes too and then we had them down at Pouce Coupe Park. I remember everyone had to bring their lawn chair to sit on.
One year I went out to White Rock, BC, and was the speaker for the Dawson Creek Chapter 16. I also attended the People First of Canada meeting. It was a large meeting and people came from all over the world. I saw more people with seeing-eye dogs at this meeting. It was lots of fun and there was a man who sang in French and who sang I walk the line by Johnny Cash.
People First groups fought hard to close institutions. There are 7 people here in Dawson Creek that came out of the institutions. We fought for people with disabilities to be allowed in the same places in their community as everyone else. I remember when we weren’t allowed in community places without our parents even though we were adults. It was in the early 80’s that I remember restaurants refusing to serve people just because they had a disability. I got married when I was 37 year old. People with disabilities have to fight for that too.
We had very strong moms and dads who got behind our People First Group and helped us with everything. My dad liked to do things with our group, like help with bake sales. We had 7-8 advisors over the years that we paid with our fundraising money. We also paid their travel so they could support us to go to meetings in Vancouver. It would have been nice if some of the meetings were in Dawson Creek.
I am proud of my leadership with People First and I am proud to say I was employed at the Dawson Creek Peavey Mart for 8 years. Like me, self advocates need to learn how to prove themselves in this world. They need to understand their rights and make sure they are paid the money they deserve in their jobs. They need to understand wills and estates so no one can take the money their family leaves them. Thanks to my parents I own my own house. People First needs to keep advocating and teaching self advocates how to stand up for themselves.