Are you aware of who you are? A few years ago, I couldn't fully answer that question, but today I have a clearer picture.
Mr. Chairman, fellow Toastmasters and special guests:
Today I'm going to tell you about one aspect of history in Canada that affected many aboriginal families. In the late fifties and early sixties, thousands of native children were put into non-native homes. In Canada, it has become popularly known as the "Sixties Scoop", which sounds like a flavour of ice cream. An estimated thirty-five thousand children were taken away, some right out of the country to the States. In my opinion, the Sixties Scoop took over from where the residential school system left off in trying to get rid of the "Indian problem".
As a member of that generation and as an adoptee, I will tell you about my search for family and some events that changed my life. I tell you this, because at Toastmasters, the first question we are asked is "who are you?". Then we are asked "But who are you - what makes you tick, what motivates you?" So this speech is partially Icebreaker and partially speech #2. My experiences as a native adoptee have shaped who I am. Sharing information with other native adoptees is one of my objectives. To that end, I have a website for native adoptees.. I also have written a short story that has been accepted for publication in an anthology of writings by native adoptees, which will be published in the fall. So I will tell you a bit about myself and how I came to meet my sisters a couple of years ago.
I was born in Kenora, Ontario. Kenora is in Northwestern Ontario a couple of hours from the Manitoba border. It's Anishinabe country. I don't know anything about my early years, only that they were spent in a series of foster homes. I remember the last foster home before I was adopted at the age of five. My adoptive parents were a childless couple who lived in Dryden and that's where I lived until I was nineteen.
We adoptees didn't know that we were a cultural phenomenon, but now that we are reaching middle-age, many of us are trying to rediscover our lost history. It is that journey that I would like to tell you about today. My story is not against my adoptive parents. I'm one of the lucky ones. I'm on good terms with my adoptive family. I had a roof over my head, three squares a day and I got an education. Barring the usual teenage angst, my childhood was pretty unremarkable.
When I was growing up, I had plenty of negative ideas about Indians. There were plenty of people around to make sure that I got the picture. So, I am not proud to admit that I strongly denied anything to do with Indian people. However, a little seed of curiosity remained and in my late twenties, I decided to take some university courses. The first course I chose was a survey of Canadian native people. I found out about some shocking things, how communities had been relocated to make room for hydro dams, about disease and ecological disaster. Small wonder that families had been fractured and people plunged into despair.
I started reading. The book that really turned my thinking around was "Indian Giver" by Jack Weatherford. He described the many contributions that native people made to the world. For example, corn and potatoes are examples of crops that had been in development long before genetic engineering became popular. Medicines that we take for granted today, like Aspirin, were part of the native pharmacopeia.
Another book that made a difference was "Keeper ‘N Me" by Richard Wagamese, who lives right here in Ottawa. Richard is an adoptee and in parts of the book, could have been writing about me.
One day, about four years ago, I received a picture of myself as a young child from a woman who had been at my last foster home. She had been adopted there and was in the process of sorting out her parent's possessions after their deaths.
I'd been thinking about the possibility of looking for relatives for several years. Several people I had met, some of them here at this center, told me some of the things I should do and the little girl in the photo was the incentive I needed. First I called the Children's Aid Society in Kenora and asked them for non-disclosing information and I also enrolled in the Ontario Adoption Registry. I asked for the non-disclosing information three years ago and I'm still waiting. From time to time I call them up and the answer's still the same - the waiting list is long. They advised me to get in touch with the Ojibway Tribal Family Services to help with the search for my family. I pestered them regularly until I finally got to talk to a counselor who said she would ask around.
A couple of weeks later, I was at work and my phone rang. A woman asked to speak to "Beverley Bunting". That was the first time in my life that anyone had asked for me by that name. She told me to call her father who knew who my family was. I called him that night and found out that my mother had died in the early seventies and that she had given birth to three other children, all of whom she had given up. He gave me my sister's phone number in Winnipeg and I called her as soon as I hung up. She was surprised and yet not surprised to hear from me. She and my other sister had already been in contact, and even saw each other from time to time. Later that summer, I was able to meet my sisters for the first time.
In my sisters and their families I now have a whole new set of friends and relations to care about and share with. I have been told that my brother does not wish to know us. I respect that decision because he is probably going through the same process that I did, but I am optimistic that one day we will meet.
This summer I will visit the reserve where I am registered and I will
be able to personally thank the relatives who cared enough about a little
girl who disappeared to answer her questions. I would ask each and every
one of you to treat any adoptees that you may meet with respect and
caring. They are your relations. To the many people who have helped me
along the path to find out who I am, meegwetch.
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