Grieving innocent lives in two different worlds
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/06/2021 (414 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
When the bodies of 215 Indigenous children were discovered near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School on Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation last month, it was a day of reckoning for Canada.
The news of May 27 absolutely gutted me. It felt like their vulnerable souls were speaking directly to me — asking to be heard, to be honoured, to be remembered.
I already knew that hundreds — if not thousands — of children were buried in unmarked graves across the country because the Truth and Reconciliation Commission shared so many essential and gut-wrenching survivor stories. As I tried to process my grief, I wondered why I was feeling so raw, so connected to these children.
After reflection and research, I was able to name my feelings: intergenerational trauma.
My origin story is complicated. And those 215 innocent souls are linked to so many people like me, who are on the fringe of certain demographics and treaty rights.
I was born in Winnipeg in the late 1960s and adopted as a baby. My adoptive parents were told I was French and Italian. Petite, with auburn hair, green eyes and pale skin, I blended into my white family.
Growing up, I always wondered where I came from, who I came from. So after my 18th birthday I filled out government forms indicating I wanted to obtain information about my biological family.
Within a year, I learned my birth mother was one of 10 children from a French family in rural Manitoba. She grew up as a ward of Child and Family Services. That gave me some perspective about what she must have gone through as a pregnant teenager. The documents also indicated I was French, Irish and Scottish. There was no mention of Italian heritage. So at 19, my identity shifted.
I didn’t meet my birth mother until my late 30s. As I braced for impact, it was fascinating to look into her dark eyes, and see a familiar face… to finally look like someone. But it wasn’t a mirror image. Her features were similar, but much darker. I learned I was Métis. I had Assiniboine, Cree, Swampy Cree and Ojibwa blood running through my veins. And I had the Métis Scrip records to prove it. My identity morphed once again.
That’s when I became forever attached to my Indigenous ancestors. I also started to understand my spirituality (which I used to think was a little weird, with these mystical feelings that came over me every so often). When I heard the beat of the drum at my first ceremony, I could barely breathe. It was grounding and shocking — a direct and sudden link to a shared and painful past.
I first learned about residential schools in 2008. And I falsely assumed the TRC’s calls to action would result in searching for the Indigenous children who lie beneath our country’s colonial earth, asking to be found. Their voices have finally risen, and their collective call to action is incredibly powerful and immeasurably sad.
I am linked to those tiny voices because of the Indian Act. Those pieces of paper ensured thousands of Indigenous children did not grow up in their communities. While the horrific history of residential schools looms large, the results of abuse and racism seeped into so many young lives through similar means, including day schools and foster care. These institutions took away dignity, identity and the ability to raise future generations.
I’m part of the ’60s Scoop. The worst version of this term equates to Indigenous children being sold to families. Other children were put into institutions or foster care. And there was another version, too. I was one of the “others,” presented as a white baby, adopted by a white family. I guess Child and Family Services decided my false heritage should include Italian, in case I ended up looking like the Indigenous teenager who gave birth to me.
For those of us who were adopted or fostered, our identity is so incredibly complicated. In the white world, I blend in easily on the surface. On a deeper level, I live in the Indigenous world. But mostly I exist in the in-between.
Some days, I feel fortunate to have grown up with white skin, sheltered from the racism I would have experienced. Other times I feel robbed of knowing my ancestry, unable to learn about my elders and cultural traditions. All my relations, as they say.
I hope my story helps others who might feel the same way, forever caught between two worlds — and not feeling authentic in either.