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Unsealed records could hold answers for Sixties Scoop adoptees

Peter Froese, who was caught up in the 60's scoop is now 53. He is applying to get his original adoption records that he hopes will illuminate why he was taken from his mother as a toddler. He is holding a picture frame containing a picture of his mother Mildrid Thomas taken in  the late 1960's and a photo of himself 18 months old with the Froese family taken May 1963.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Peter Froese, who was caught up in the 60's scoop is now 53. He is applying to get his original adoption records that he hopes will illuminate why he was taken from his mother as a toddler. He is holding a picture frame containing a picture of his mother Mildrid Thomas taken in the late 1960's and a photo of himself 18 months old with the Froese family taken May 1963.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/7/2015 (1111 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

More than 50 years after Peter Froese was taken from his mother on the Roseau River First Nation and adopted into a Mennonite family, he still doesn't know why.

There were whispers and hints his mother fled his abusive father, that she wasn't able to care for him, that she mostly left him with his grandmother.

But that's all Froese has been able to glean over the years about how he came to be part of the thousands of indigenous children transferred to white families all over the continent during the Sixties Scoop. Like a growing number of children of the Sixties Scoop, Froese is requesting his adoption records now that the Manitoba government has unsealed them. Froese could have applied for a censored version years ago, and he's already uncovered the names of his parents through his own sleuthing. But now he wants his full dossier -- his original birth certificate, his medical history and especially any clues about why he was scooped.

"I'm hoping there's something in there that can help me breathe a little easier," he said. "I'm 53, but there's days I go back and I'm still looking for that same mother, looking at some lady pushing a cart downtown, these older aboriginal ladies, wondering if that's my mom, especially at powwow."

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/7/2015 (1111 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

More than 50 years after Peter Froese was taken from his mother on the Roseau River First Nation and adopted into a Mennonite family, he still doesn't know why.

There were whispers and hints his mother fled his abusive father, that she wasn't able to care for him, that she mostly left him with his grandmother.

Janice Knight, manager of adoption and post-adoption programs, among thousands of adoption records at the Family Services Department of Manitoba.

MELISSA TAIT / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Janice Knight, manager of adoption and post-adoption programs, among thousands of adoption records at the Family Services Department of Manitoba.

But that's all Froese has been able to glean over the years about how he came to be part of the thousands of indigenous children transferred to white families all over the continent during the Sixties Scoop. Like a growing number of children of the Sixties Scoop, Froese is requesting his adoption records now that the Manitoba government has unsealed them. Froese could have applied for a censored version years ago, and he's already uncovered the names of his parents through his own sleuthing. But now he wants his full dossier — his original birth certificate, his medical history and especially any clues about why he was scooped.

"I'm hoping there's something in there that can help me breathe a little easier," he said. "I'm 53, but there's days I go back and I'm still looking for that same mother, looking at some lady pushing a cart downtown, these older aboriginal ladies, wondering if that's my mom, especially at powwow."

Late last month, during a ceremony at the Manitoba legislature to mark the province's formal apology for the Sixties Scoop, several adoptees said they were planning to ask for their records. Most, like Froese, already know the names of their parents, in part because they had just enough information a few calls to the band office netted phone numbers for aunts or cousins who filled in the rest. Instead, several said they still want to know why they were taken, what social workers wrote about them at the time and how the decision was justified. Some are also hoping to glean hints about where other siblings ended up.

Shortly before last month's apology, after a year-long phase-in, Manitoba joined many other provinces and opened roughly 50,000 adoption records, allowing birth parents and adoptees to request access to all their uncensored files. That will, in many cases, allow people to start tracking down long-lost children or birth parents. Janice Knight, the manager of adoption and post-adoption services, said the province has also created a kind of one-stop shop for children of the Sixties Scoop so adoptees don't have to deal with two different jurisdictions — where they were born and where they were adopted.

But, amid shelf after shelf of manila files in Knight's records room, it's impossible to know how many belong to children of the Sixties Scoop. Nationwide, an estimated 20,000 children were taken, often for meagre reasons, from indigenous homes and adopted into white ones across the continent between 1960 and 1980. The scoop is seen by many as the successor to the Indian residential school system and the harbinger of current child-welfare woes, where nearly all children in care in Manitoba are indigenous.

At least two class-action lawsuits are underway — one out of Ontario and the other from Saskatchewan — and the records could also be useful if adoptees want to join one of those or seek eventual compensation, said Raven Sinclair, a University of Regina social work professor and expert on the scoop.

But, along with other child-welfare experts, Sinclair warned adoption records may not be as enlightening as many hope.

In many cases, records were poorly kept and even the documentation protocols in place at the time weren't followed.

Adoptees could get a multi-page summary of their social history that might explain why they were scooped, but they might get much less. And, some of the allegations or revelations in the file could be upsetting, even if they confirm an adoptee's rudimentary understanding of why they were scooped.

Froese is hoping to learn more about his father, a Quebec miner who took Froese and his mother to live briefly in Rouyn-Noranda. The man's name was likely Onesime Toussaint, but calls to Toussaints in the area have come up empty.

Froese knows more about his mother, Mildred, who died in the early 1980s before Froese could track her down. But it was just last year he got his hands on a photo of her.

"She looked like me — handsome," he quipped.

But her photo also brought tears as Froese recalled how much of his culture he's lost and how he grew up with contempt for his people. He would love to know Mildred's birthdate, which will likely be in his adoption file, and where she is buried, which may not.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

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History

Updated on Friday, July 3, 2015 at 6:14 AM CDT: Changes headline.

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