Let’s talk about it
I remember as a child, we were asked to bring our baby pictures to school. We put them on the board and then we were asked if we could figure out who was who. Everyone knew who I was. I remember being surprised that everyone guessed me. I thought it was only because I never had a baby picture. To my knowledge, the youngest picture of me is from when I was two or three years old. I never realized it wouldn’t matter how old I was. The fact that I was the only First Nations kid in my class was a dead give away.
That’s how it was for me growing up; I never knew I was First Nations. I didn’t see the differences until I was older. When I did see them, I still didn’t understand what they were. The knowledge that I was First Nations didn’t hit me suddenly; it was gradual. There was no moment that I can remember when I came into acceptance. It just slowly became part of who I was. I was the Indian girl that was adopted, that didn’t know anything about her family or where she was from.
I was adopted out in what is now known as the Sixties and Seventies Scoop. During the adoption process, many of us were given letters explaining why our parents could not take care of us and how they decided to give us a better life. I read this letter so many times as a child. At the time I probably could have recited it to you. It wasn’t until many years later I found out that most of the information in that letter was false. I felt complete betrayal when I discovered that the little I knew about my life and my past was a lie; made up words, mass produced for hundreds of children.
This letter did explain, however, where I was born. I come from a small northern village in Saskatchewan called Ile-la-Crosse. For years as a child, every time I saw a map, I would look for this community and each time I would find it, I would feel a sense of belonging, a sense of peace. Looking at those maps, my differences made sense. I could measure them in distances.
My initial understanding of who I was came from identifying as Métis. The Métis were explained to me as a people whose culture and identity were ripped away from them. That was something that made sense to me. That was the beginning of me being able to understand who I was.
It wasn’t until I was almost 30 years old that I met my birth mother. I remember this meeting vividly. For many years, I was too afraid to meet her. Finally I decided I was ready but nothing could have prepared me for that moment. I was standing on the street outside of my apartment when my mother, aunt and one of my sisters pulled up in a truck. My mother got out of the truck and started crying. She hugged me and cried for what seemed like forever, sobbing the whole time. I remember being confused as to who she was. She looked so young. I thought maybe she was my sister, not my mom. My aunt was nearby watching us. I thought: “Are you my mom?” I was not really comfortable with emotions at that time. I was at a lost place in my life. I was 29 years old and I was not yet a mother myself. I left that first meeting feeling no connection and still no more insight into who I was.
Now, years later and after the birth of my son, I truly understand the intensity and the realness of that moment. My mom waited 27 years to see me, to hold me, to hear my voice. As a mother thinking about the agonizing feelings of torment she must have lived with, I just can’t imagine. I don’t think I could survive it.
Over the years, I have gotten to know my birth family. I have now learned that I am part Métis and also part Cree. My family’s life history is so massive that no letter could have done it justice. There is sorrow and grief that breaks my heart; all the result of what colonization has done to my family. Residential schools, death and addiction have hurt my family. But through all the pain and the trauma, there burns a resiliency to survive and thrive.
The process of getting to know my family has not been easy. I am different. I am not like my family. It’s like getting to know a stranger, but that stranger is your mother. It’s not something that is easy to explain. What helped with my sense of belonging, with my understanding of who I was in the family, came through my sisters.
I was up north for a visit. Two of my sisters and I went for a walk to the lake. As I began to talk and get to know them, there was familiarity in the way they interacted, much like me and the sister I grew up with. It was in their sense of humour, in the way they laughed. It was a moment of acceptance for me, an understanding of who I was.
To this day I don’t go home for the holidays. When I’ve had a hard day, it’s not my mom I reach out for. I am an anomaly. I have more parents than most people, yet I still struggle with belonging. I am most comfortable when I am at home, just me and my son. I often wonder how different I would be if I never had to struggle with belonging and self worth. These have been such huge barriers in my life. It has taken a lot of work to overcome them and just be OK with me.
The news of the Sixties and Seventies scoop settlement has filled me with tons of memories and a lot of feelings. Many of the sentiments of the survivors of the Sixties and Seventies Scoop out there are that no amount of money could ever give back what was taken from us. I most definitely agree with this statement. Money doesn’t change who I am. It doesn’t buy back my childhood or create stronger bonds with my family. Money can’t buy reconciliation.
Reconciliation is a process. It’s admitting the wrongs and making them right. But not all things can be made right. I know for myself reconciliation would be a lot easier if our country and our community would support our Indigenous peoples a lot more. If we took seriously the hundreds of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. If our children received more help in our school systems. If healing from the trauma of years of abuse inflicted on the Indigenous peoples of Canada became a priority for everyone. Indigenous issues affect us all. The days of solving the “Indian problem” are over. What we have here is a Canadian problem. If you truly believe Canada is a great nation, join me on this journey to reconciliation.