By the time she found her birth parents, it was too late.
Katherine Legrange is a survivor of the '60s Scoop, the large-scale removal of Indigenous children from their families and communities, who were then placed with foster or adoptive parents between 1951 and 1991.
She is also director for the 60s Scoop Legacy of Canada, which along with former senator and chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Murray Sinclair renewed the call on Monday for a national inquiry into the '60s Scoop.
It was only because her birth father passed away that Legrange was able to obtain information from the post-adoption registry.
She managed to piece together bits of her ancestry — her grandmother was treaty to Ebb and Flow First Nation, her father grew up in Crane River — but other answers remained out of reach.
"If he was still alive, obviously I would have been able to get my birth story and how I got here," she said.
She also discovered her birth mother had committed suicide when Legrange was about nine years old.
"Learning that as an adult was devastating," she said. "You always expect that you’re going to be reunited with your family and then when it doesn’t happen, it’s devastating."
Even when she found two of her siblings, the effects of their separation were still apparent. Her sister, having experienced some sort of trauma, is not willing to meet, despite also living in Winnipeg, said Legrange. She did meet her brother, but he passed away of an overdose on June 11. She didn’t hear about his death until five weeks later.
"To me, that is indicative of the disconnect that is still there," she said. "I only knew him for a short while, and unfortunately his life was cut short."
The separation from her family, and the revelation of its permanence, has been difficult for Legrange.
"I’m angry. I’m hurt. I’m frustrated. Because it’s been a lifetime of trying to get answers and when you do, it’s disappointing," she said.
But through her work and the renewed call for a national inquiry, Lagrange is still searching for answers — this time, answers to broader, more systematic questions.
"I think that we really need to delve into how we got to this point and what we need to do to never be at this point again," she said.
Legrange said almost 10,000 children are currently in care in Manitoba — some estimate as high as 11,000 — and about 90 per cent are Indigenous. This extreme overrepresentation is an extension of the '60s Scoop, which is itself an extension of residential schools, and all the result of systemic bias and racism, said Lagrange.
"The magnitude of the removal of children in Canada has not yet been measured. It ought to be...The children who were removed need to know they are not alone, but they also need to know that there were reasons for what happened that were not of their parents’ making," Sinclair said in a press release.
Long Plain First Nation Chief Dennis Meeches also weighed in with support. He denounced the 60s Scoop alongside residential schools as two government policies with "a really damaging effect on families and communities."
He said he believes the timing is right for the inquiry, as more attention is finally being paid to residential schools and other issues that have hurt Indigenous communities. He said in order for there to be reconciliation, there must first be an understanding of the reality and the enormity of the injury racist policies have inflicted on Indigenous people.
He said recent steps in Canadian society have been in the right direction, but a more accurate and complete grasp of history is still needed.
"Knowing what we know, we can all make those changes together for a better world," he said. "But Canada can definitely do better. It can."
The release from Sinclair and the 60s Scoop Legacy of Canada said it’s estimated more than 20,000 First Nations children were "scooped" from their families. Many survivors and their families believe the number is much higher.