The now grown-up victims of the Sixties Scoop suffer emotional scars time can't heal.
Coleen Rajotte was taken from her Cree community in Saskatchewan when she was three months old and raised by a Manitoba family.
Now a Winnipeg filmmaker, Rajotte said when she faced the impact of lost birthdays, Christmases and the love of her birth family, it hit her like a tonne of bricks.
"I was physically sick for days after that," she said.
Marlene Orgeron, 40, remembers being scooped out of her home at age four and sent to live with strangers in New Orleans. She eventually moved back to Manitoba and raised a family in Brandon, but the memory still tears her apart.
The legacy ruined her family. Two of her brothers were also victims of the Sixties Scoop. One is halfway through a 20-year manslaughter conviction in a Louisiana prison; the other refuses to visit Canada.
Joseph Maud, 53, remembers the day he and his brother escaped from "the farm" in Alonsa, in north-central Manitoba. He wants to tell his grandchildren he loves them -- as a father, he couldn't hug his own children. He is now a councillor on Skownan First Nation in the Interlake.
The stories sound familiar to anyone who has followed the saga of residential-school survivors, but Rajotte, Orgeron and Maud didn't attend residential schools.
The Sixties Scoop refers to provincial government policies that employed social workers as part of a mass removal of aboriginal children, mainly from Ontario to British Columbia. About 20,000 children, including 3,000 in Manitoba, were taken from their homes from the 1960s to the 1980s to be adopted by non-native middle-class couples.
The two-day roundtable forum that wraps up today heard calls Monday for compensation, counselling services, education bursaries and, above all, a formal apology.
Rajotte was adopted as a baby and while she enjoyed a loving home, she was left with emotional scars.
"We've lost a lot. We've lost our culture. We've lost our language. We've lost our connection to our home communities," she said.
Rajotte's birth parents went on to raise four other children at home. Meeting them and her extended family years later -- seeing what she missed -- made her sick, she said.
"If somebody came into your home and took your children, you'd want answers. Someone has to take responsibility. I'd like a formal apology for all those children that were taken in the '60s, '70s and '80s. And that was a heck of a lot of children. We were victims of colonialization and Canadians need to be made aware that this is part of our history," Rajotte said.
Manitoba Aboriginal Affairs Minister Eric Robinson, who is leading the roundtable, said he believes it's time adoptees were given the same chance at reconciliation as residential-school survivors.
While residential-school survivors have had a formal apology and are the subjects of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the adoptees haven't been formally recognized.
"It's a massive issue, more massive than Canadians realize," Robinson said .
There are legal hurdles, including a court case in Ontario, and questions that must be answered before the adoptees get the justice they deserve, Robinson said.
A class-action lawsuit by some survivors in Ontario in 2009 is slowly making its way through the courts. The lawsuit was certified, but Canada recently won leave to appeal that decision.
There are legal hurdles in Manitoba, too. The province has yet to open up its adoption files so people adopted before 1999 can find out about their birth families.
How governments accept culpability and how they respond to the inevitable calls for counselling, compensation and a formal apology are broader issues yet to be debated, Robinson said.
"We need to address this issue, and government has an opportunity to listen and to work with survivors. We have a chance to put together (services)... Of course, compensation will no doubt come up," Robinson said.
"To make this issue more broadly recognized, more broadly respected is something that has to be done.
"Governments have to be held accountable."
-- with files from The Canadian Press
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Three tell of trauma
Coleen Rajotte, one of an estimated 20,000 Canadian aboriginal adults who survived the Sixties Scoop, attended a Manitoba government roundtable this week, which drew 18 survivors from as far away as Amsterdam and New Orleans.
"I really feel there's been a perception in mainstream society that this has just been swept under the rug," Rajotte said. "We've really been forgotten about. People think we all went home and things are peachy keen, when in fact that's not true at all. That's why we're here today."
The Sixties Scoop is a term used to describe provincial policies that used the child-welfare system to break up aboriginal families in the 1960s, '70s and '80s.
At the age of six months, Marlene Orgeron's parents were killed in a car crash. Her aunts and uncle took her and her brothers and sisters in, but child-welfare authorities were relentless, she said. "I was wronged by my own government and (compensation) is not going to make it go away, but I think there should be compensation somehow, because none of this was my fault," Orgeron said.
Orgeron was four the day provincial social workers removed her from her aunt's home and took her two brothers.
"They'd come for us several times before, but my aunt had always hidden us. This time, my aunt wasn't there and my uncle was white. They told him he had no say because he was white and we were Indian. They put me in the back of the car and drove me to a foster home." Months passed.
"A social worker came and put me and both my brothers on a plane to New Orleans. We got there and we were told, 'This is your new mom and dad.' And that was that."
The placement was a disaster. The adopted dad had a hair-trigger temper, she was rebellious and got pregnant, and her brother ended up in detention. One day when she was 17, her adopted dad kicked her out. "He gave me 10 minutes to get out of the house."
She took a Greyhound bus to Winnipeg, settled in Brandon and raised two teenage daughters.
"I've been in Canada for 20 years, trying to hold it together. I don't feel part of my culture. My identity is confused. I haven't met my family and for the most part, my connection is lost," she said.
Joseph Maud, 53, is a five-term councillor for the Skownan First Nation in the Interlake now. He recalls he and his brother were sent to foster parents in Alonsa in north-central Manitoba. They chopped wood, hauled water, cleaned out barns and cut hay. They were threatened physically if they spoke Ojibwa.
"Physically, mentally, verbally, psychologically, they were abusive," he recalled of his foster parents. "One thing that really sticks out was we were made to scrub with a scrub brush until we were almost bleeding. My brother and I thought our foster parents believed we could wash the brown off if we scrubbed our skin," he said.
Among other measures, Maud is calling for the province to reopen an adoptee repatriation program it shut down. He also wants an apology "to get the province of Manitoba to admit this was a mistake, like the prime minister said in Ottawa" about residential schools.