From Île-à-la-Crosse to Brighton, England: ’60s Scoop survivors map journey of reconnection | CBC News

Thinking about meeting his sister Patsy for the first time seven years ago is still tough for Sixties Scoop survivor Daniel Frost.

“All I could do was look at her hands,” he recalled, still overwhelmed with emotion as he remembered how much those hands looked like his.

“I couldn’t look at her eyes.”

Frost is Métis and Cree, one of about 22,000 Indigenous kids who were torn from their homes and placed in foster care or adopted into non-Indigenous families between 1951 and 1991, a system known today as the Sixties Scoop.

He came to Ottawa this week to share his story with the interactive mapping project, In Our Own Words.

The In Our Own Words map tracks where Indigenous kids were taken after being torn from their families. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Born in Île-à-la-Crosse in northern Saskatchewan, two-year-old Frost was adopted by British parents in 1968, taken to White Rock, B.C., and then finally to Brighton, England. He now lives in Spain.

He spoke with CBC News at downtown Ottawa’s Novotel Hotel, where Sixties Scoop survivors gathered this week from far-flung places all over the world to share stories and connect.

Frost explained how a federally funded Saskatchewan-based organization, Adopt Indian Métis (AIM) scooped seven youngsters from his 13-sibling family. The organization is known for placing ads in newspapers and aggressive public relations campaigns.

WATCH | A 1968 CBC News report on AIM

Adoption agency seeks homes for Indigenous and Métis children in 1968

A Saskatchewan group called AIM (Adopt Indian and Métis) describes its success at placing children in new homes.

Frost began learning his history by reading legal documents, including the court files that tell how his mother ran out of the courtroom when she learned her children were being taken.

“What they were saying in the 1960s and ’70s was, ‘We’re not going to help you. We’re just going to take your children,'” Frost said.

“I don’t know if I’ll heal from it, but I think being able to work my way through it is something which is necessary.”

He visited Île-à-la-Crosse in 2016 and met his family, which he said changed him from a scared outsider to a man deeply proud of his Indigenous identity, and this trip to Ottawa includes a hop across the river to Gatineau, Que., to pick up a copy of his first Indian status card.

‘It’s very impactful to see’

Colleen Hele-Cardinal is the driving force behind the map, a voluntary project to which 112 survivors have now contributed.

A survivor herself, Hele-Cardinal and her two older sisters were taken from Saddle Lake in Alberta to Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., raised in a non-Indigenous family and essentially grew up not knowing they were First Nations.

Colleen Hele-Cardinal poses beside the map showing how far Sixties Scoop survivors were taken.
Colleen Hele-Cardinal is behind the interactive survivor story mapping project. ‘This work drives me, every day,’ she says. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

“It’s very impactful to see how far we’ve been taken,” she said, explaining she created the map to show the vast geographical dislocation, raise awareness, foster connections and help reunite long-lost relatives.

“We’re still looking for our family members. We’re still trying to heal, and we’ve kind of been forgotten about,” she said.

For Lew Jobs, who is Inuvialuit, the experience began in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., one of the northernmost points on any map, and ended up in southern Alberta.

Like Frost, he reconnected with his family when he was in his 20s — before he even learned what the Sixties Scoop was, which wasn’t until 2017. 

“It’s been awkward, at times,” he said of the reconnecting process.

“It really is a different culture when you go home. They grew up on the land. I didn’t. They speak the language. I don’t. They were very cautious with me at first.”

A man in a "University of Tuktoyaktuk" sweater.
Lew Jobs was born in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., but ended up in southern Alberta. He reconnected with his family later in life when he was in his 20s — before he even learned what the Sixties Scoop was. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

But the caution subsided and he’s since spent time on the land, tried traditional country food and, just last year, took up soapstone carving as a hobby.

“I got to experience some of the things that I lost, but it was never home,” he said.

“You just feel like an outsider sometimes, even though you’re family.”

The Canadian government agreed to compensate First Nations and Inuit survivors in 2017 through an out-of-court legal settlement, but the question of whether the federal government has done enough to make amends garners a head shake from the dozen or so survivors who met with CBC News.

“Absolutely not,” said Audra Foggin, who is from Frog Lake FIrst Nation in Alberta and was adopted by a non-Indigenous family who lived nearby. Like the others, she reconnected in her late 20s and has been building relationships ever since. 

“There is much more room for engagement, support and recognition,” she said.

“The inquiry with residential school folks has occurred, but I think with the Sixties Scoop, we’re just scratching the surface.”

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