Full show notes: http://www.adopteeson.com/listen/e112
Episode Transcription by Fayelle Ewuakye. Find her on Twitter at @FayelleEwuakye
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You are listening to AdopteesOn, the podcast where adoptees discuss the adoption experience. This is episode 112, Christine. I’m your host Haley Radke. We are continuing our series on the Canadian Sixties Scoop. And today, I’m honored to introduce you to Christine Miskonoondinkwe Smith. Christine shares her story of being apprehended from her original family, adopted with her sister, and then ultimately going back into care as a young girl. She tells us about how she reconnected with her indigenous heritage, and how some influential role models made all the difference for her. We wrap up with some recommended resources, and as always, links to everything we’ll be talking about today are over on AdopteesOn.com. Let’s listen in.
Haley- I’m so pleased to welcome to AdopteesOn, Christine Miskonoondinkwe Smith. Welcome, Christine!
Christine – Hello.
Haley – I’m so excited to chat with you today and I’d love for you to just start out by sharing your story with us please.
Christine – I’m Christine Miskonoondinkwe Smith, I am from Peguis First Nation in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I was adopted out from my family. My biological family, when I was three years old. And adopted into a non-native family in another province, which is Ontario. So I grew up without knowing my community, my language, and my traditions. And ultimately the situation I went into was not healthy. And l ended up in care, ended up back in care at the age of 10, after being with my adoptive parents for 7 years, I think that’s 7 years. So I not only was taken away from my community and my family, I was also a product of the foster care system. That was very difficult. But there were some people in my life who stepped in and kind of helped me out, were role models. And helped me to stay on the right path, I guess you could say.
Haley - Okay, so when you said you were adopted at age three, did your biological family relinquish you, or were you apprehended?
Christine - My sister and I were apprehended together and we were adopted together but we were told that our mom was neglectful and that is why we were taken away from her. And also that she drank and a whole bunch of other negative stuff.
Haley - Right, but the stereotypical things that the government was kind of using as excuses to apprehend, okay. And so you and your sister were adopted together when you were put back into care at age 10. What happened to your sister?
Christine – My sister stayed with the adoptive family I was with, I had been adopted by. So, we went 7 years without contact with each other and then she came back into my life when I was, I think 17. She showed up at my independent living home that the children’s aid had put me into. And we’ve established a relationship since then.
Haley – Wow, okay, there’s a lot of stuff there, my goodness. Can you tell me a little bit more about going into care after you’ve had an adoptive placement, which sounded like it was not a good situation for you. Were you in different foster homes before the independent living home? What did that look like for you, your young adult, teenage years, I should say?
Christine – My first home was actually a home for troubled girls. I was the youngest there. I was only 10 and the kids there were like 14, 15, and 16 years old. I stayed there for a year. And then when I met a worker there at the group home, and they decided they wanted to just take me home with them. That was my first foster home, so I was around 11, I think. And then that wasn’t very good either, ‘cause I was very troubled at that age. I don’t blame them for what happened. But at that age, I thought if anyone, if my parents, if my adoptive parents can’t love me, then why should I let anyone else love me? So I started running away and they called the police of course, and then I’d be sent back to live with them. And all that began when I was 11. But it stopped when I was 13, when I went to my third foster home. Because the third foster home I went to, they actually showed me that they gave a damn. Pardon my language.
Haley – Mmhmm.
Christine – But they said to me, one day I got really really angry. And I was gonna take off on them. And they stood at the front of their porch and they said, if you step off this sidewalk, and leave, then you’re not gonna come back here. And for some reason that clicked in my brain that yeah, they wanted me there. I suffered a lot of mental health issues, a lot of trauma from what I went through. And they also went through trying to deal with that with me. I’d developed anorexia, and I harmed myself by cutting and by taking pills when I, if I wanted to numb myself. But that, like I didn’t, the anorexia was a good part of my teen years. And so was the harming myself. The pill taking didn’t start til I was 17 and my adoptive father showed up back in my life. I thought that by him showing up back in my life, I could prove to him that he could love me. So I basically, I guess I thought I could give him a second chance. That, if he could come back into my life, and love me, I would be okay. But instead it caused more trauma. And I did end up having to cut him out of my life entirely. Which is something I, I wouldn’t say I regret. But I learned a lesson from that, and the lesson I learned from that was that there are people in your life who are gonna be toxic. There are gonna be people in your life who are positive and you have to learn to discern between the two of them and stick with the people who are positive. Learn from the people who are positive that you treat yourself the way, you treat others the way you treat yourself. I don’t know if that makes sense, I don’t know if I—
Haley – No, it totally makes sense. And you, I think on your Facebook page, just a little bit ago I was looking back and it said something like that. Like you really wanna keep positive people around you and I understand that. When we’re healing from a lot of different traumatic things, just as adopted people, you don’t wanna keep bringing trauma into your life. Christine, can we go back, something that you said was that there was people in your life that were those positive influences. And so you were, they were kind of stepping back in and helping you in some fashion. Can you talk a little bit about that and also, I don’t know if this is connected or not, so you were transracially adopted. And you were taken to Ontario, you were born in Manitoba. How about connecting back with your heritage and your culture?
Christine – Being transracially adopted was actually a very difficult thing because I experienced a lot of hostility, a lot of discrimination. John Jorns speaks about that in his thesis about how he felt, how you can feel excluded from just little things. And knowing that I was different, I knew right from the start of course, that I was different, because I was brown skinned and they weren’t. I got back into my culture, or connected back with my culture I should say, when I moved to Toronto after living in Windsor for 20 years, for my 20 years or whatever. I think it was whatever, I can’t even, sorry.
Haley – That’s okay, so what decade of your life were you in when you were reconnecting with your culture?
Christine – I was in my mid, I would say I was in my mid 20s to my 30s.
Haley – Okay.
Christine – I’m still reconnecting now and I’m in my mid 40s now.
Haley – Can you give an example of some of those little things? I mean probably now we might call microaggressions, things that made you feel other or less than from your adoptive family. Or just growing up transracially, taken out of your community.
Christine – I always knew that I was different because I remember as far back as grade three, sitting in class, and a kid saying, I don’t like you because you’re brown. And we lived in affluent suburb where I was adopted into. And I was always the last one picked for groups, teams, everything. My adoptive parents made it known that they didn’t want me, they wanted my sister. They always told me that oh if you make it to the age of 25, you’re gonna be either in jail, or dead. So it was the typical stereotypes that they fell back on.
Haley – Was your sister younger?
Christine – Uh no, my sister’s actually 10 months older than me.
Haley – Okay. Did it make a difference for you to have her with you? It sounds like they were kind of pushing you against each other in some way, but I don’t know.
Christine – Uh yeah, they were striving to put us against each other a lot, when we were together. And she could do no wrong, so anything that was done, it was blamed on me. My sister’s side of the story is different, she thinks that she basically tried to save me from what happened. But in essence, I’ve told her no, because it was me that ended up taking a different path and getting away from our adoptive parents. Even though they instigated it by, I mean, putting me back into care.
Haley – Yeah, I’ve heard of rehoming before and I’ve heard of adoptive parents saying like, yeah we just can’t do it. But I haven’t heard of that where there’s two siblings and one is, one they’re like no, we can’t. Yeah, that’s really shocking. Okay, so Christine, I’m curious about that time in your mid 20s to 30s, what does reconnecting look like for you? Did you have, like what kind of friend group did you have? Did you have to actively seek out other indigenous people? Or what did that look like? Where were you living and kind of walk us through that if you would.
Christine – I basically had to actively seek out other people, other indigenous people. It helped at the time that I had a worker who was introducing me to the various things in the community, in the indigenous community. And I ended up volunteering at the Native Canadian Centre.
Haley – You ended up volunteering at the Native Canadian Centre? What is that?
Christine – It’s a Friendship Centre in Toronto. I was brought there by a worker who thought it would be good for me to be involved in something, ‘cause I was suffering from depression and extreme anxiety. I started the process of working there. Not working there, but volunteering there, I mean. And I met various people and through my volunteer work, I was able to take part in watching events take place, like different workshops, ceremonies, and stuff like that. And it made me want to go further so I basically signed up to go back to school. I had always wanted to have a post secondary education so I did that. And I got accepted into the Academic Bridging Program at the University of Toronto. And I did a year of studies there, got accepted into studies part time. And from there, I started taking Aboriginal Studies. Because I wanted to understand the history of my people better. And I wanted to know why there were so many stereotypes around us as a people. And that was when I met a professor in my first year of studies, Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, who told me right from the start, don’t be afraid. And speak up. And she was a mentor for me for, she’s still a mentor for me, but it was very enlightening for me to have a professor show interest in me and show, tell me that I could be a lot more than I had been told.
Haley – In your studies or at the Native Canadian Centre, did you meet any other people that had a similar story to you that were apprehended or adopted or in foster care?
Christine – I didn’t really know too many people that, like I had heard about residential schools, that kind of thing, but I didn’t really meet a lot of people in regards to that and the Sixties Scoop until I was, I found out about the national child welfare group in Ottawa. And I went to their very first gathering. I traveled to Ottawa and I stayed in Ottawa and I stayed for the, what they did, and they talked about trauma, they talked about how we weren’t alone.
Haley – So was this a gathering of people from the Sixties Scoop?
Christine – Yes.
Haley – Okay.
Christine – I missed the next gathering but I’ve been to the last two. And the most inspiring thing that they have given me is a sense of family again. Because I have friends now who know what I’ve been through, who understand what I’ve been through, and they, they’re very supportive. Even if it is, even if we only meet them once a year. They’re so very supportive online and you know.
Haley – Oh yeah, I get it, I totally get it. There’s nothing like being with other adoptees in person and then also for an adoptee who’s had a similar experience to you. So that’s amazing that you’re able to gather and do that and it sounds like there is some training and things that happen, teaching about trauma, and that’s excellent. I’ll have to put a link to that in the show notes so people can find out more information. What are some of the best ways that you have found to not look back at things positively? Like I know there’s a lot of really challenging, difficult things that happen to you. But how have you been able to become more of a positive person and you know, you say you choose to surround yourself with positive people. Do you wanna talk a little bit about that? Like how did you decide, I have to move forward?
Christine – There was a time, probably when I was in my, when I was from 17 to early 20s, I was in a just very negative spot. And I was, I know for a fact that I was very draining to be around because I was so down on myself and so, like oh who cares kind of thing. Again it was role models that stepped in and helped me. There were people as I was growing up, teachers, or like in my studies, professors, or the people in Ottawa who helped me to see that if I wanted to change, I could. And I chose to break the cycle of what had happened in my family by going back to school, getting my undergraduate degree, and then going and getting my master’s degree. And deciding that the friends that I made along the way were people that I wanted in my life because they continuously supported me, encouraged me, and if I got down, they’d say, no think about this in another way. Instead of thinking about it in a way that would get me more upset.
Haley – Mmhmm.
Christine – So I kept in touch with a couple people from when I was younger. And they're even surprised. Well, I wouldn’t say surprised, but maybe wow, you’ve come a long way. And I don’t like to, I guess say toot my own horn, but I have come a long way. And I do thank the people that have helped me to see that I am a lot more than what my adoptive parents let me believe, and what society has led me to believe.
Haley – Mmhmm.
Christine – The government played a huge role in trying to decimate our people. And even though that makes me angry, I try to rise above it and I try to, right when I started free dancing with my writing, I only wanted to focus on the positive, because that’s all we heard in the news was, the stereotypical news about First Nations people. I wanted to focus on the positives so I would do stories on people who were successful. People who were making steps for themselves or looking out for other people in our community.
Haley – What would you tell us about the impact the Sixties Scoop has had on your community? And what, just a really, simple, easy question. And then what hasn’t changed, or what has changed? Even now? I interviewed Dr. Raven Sinclair as well and she was telling me about the very, very percentages of kids in care are still indigenous. Can you speak to that a little bit?
Christine – There is a very high overrepresentation of indigenous kids in care. I happen to one of the fortunate ones to come out of it. But in recent news, there was a little baby in Winnipeg who died while in care and that shouldn’t have happened. Injustice of that and the injustice towards Tina Fontaine, and how she was ignored is really infuriating. And I believe that the government even though they say they want reconciliation and they want to work with us, I don’t think they're ready. Or if they are ready, they're being very slow about it. And they're not changing their stance towards how they see us. They see us as wards of the state which is not what we are. We’re independent First Nations and we should be treated as such. And the overrepresentation of children in care is just an extension, I believe, of continuing not only residential schools, era, but the Sixties Scoop era. Communities have been majorly affected. I know for a fact that when I went back to my own community, I didn’t feel like I was a part of my community because I have, I’ve never been on reserve. So I even remember my own uncle laughing, even though I know he was doing it in jest, I remember saying, having misconceptions about my reserve and I would ask questions and they’d be like, well no, that’s not true, this is what happens. And it’s just, it fractures communities. And the government, even though they're trying to invest so many dollars into child welfare, they need to take action and they need to not pay lip service anymore. Because lip service doesn’t get you anywhere. It just says, oh yeah, we’ll do something, but it doesn’t do anything. And it doesn’t take back what Sixties Scoops kids have lost or what residential school era people have lost. I lost having a connection with my family even though I’ve found some of them on Facebook. I had 13 years with my biological mother before she passed in 2017. And a lot of people say, oh you’re lucky that you had that 13 years. But I wish I had had more. I can say that. I wish I had been able to have grown up with her and I wish that I was able to speak my language with her. And to grow up knowing the different things that she did. But I’m now hearing that secondhand Because her voice is gone.
Haley – I’m sorry. I’m sorry for your loss, that’s heartbreaking. So, you reconnected with her, and you know, knowing now what you know about the Sixties Scoop, and how social workers were really given a mandate to apprehend indigenous kids, sort of, it was almost no matter what. There was likely not a reason for you to be apprehended. Is that right?
Christine – I mean yeah. There was no reason for us to be apprehended. Sure, my mom led a tough life. From what I understand, from what she told me, and from what I’ve learned through my own understanding of the history and everything. The highest apprehension rates were in Manitoba. And in the prairies as far as I understand. Because I done a lot of research on that area. I’m writing a memoir about my, snapshots of my life, of being in care in the Sixties Scoop. And I think the child welfare workers worked as, worked in cahoots with the govt basically. And the high apprehension rates are still something that needs to be addressed, like why are they still taking indigenous children away, especially in an era that they’re saying is truth and reconciliation?
Haley – Yeah. Well and, this is the piece I don’t understand, why there’s such a disconnect. Why, you know, broad sweeping strokes the government is, doesn’t like obviously, the parenting style in general, of indigenous families. And yet, so much of the trauma, you know, we talk about trauma being passed down generationally, you were mentioning too, residential schools. And it’s like you don’t even get a chance, it’s just, I say it again, it’s so heartbreaking to me to hear these stories about the brokenness. And what I love about your story Christine is, is all the ways that you have tried to reconnect and relearn about your culture and also be a positive force for your own life, but also in your community. And helping other people move forward as well. And the thing is, like if we don’t look back on this time, like we’re still repeating the same mistakes. I think it’s kind of sick actually, that a lot of Canadians don’t understand about the Sixties Scoop. We hear about residential schools, but honestly, I don’t think we get it. So I’m thankful for your wisdom on this and sharing what you’ve learned about and you write about. And yeah, I appreciate that. Do you have anything else that you wanna tell us about that or, you know, you’re not just talking to Canadians, you’re also talking to Americans and other adopted people around the world. What are some lessons we can learn here? And especially for adopted people, like, what can we be doing to change what’s happening right now? ‘Cause we don’t want there to be future adoptees with trauma. How do we move forward and how do we change things?
Christine – I think that we have to basically band together, be accepting of each other, and not engage in any lateral violence towards each other. We’ve all been through various amounts of trauma in one way or another. And we can't let that destroy us, we have to band together and let each other know that we support each other. And it’s important if you know your truths, to stick to your truths. And to also, if you know your story, and you wanna share your story, it’s important that we share our story so that this doesn’t happen to younger generations. My favorite quote from Thomas King of all people, is the truth about stories is that’s all we are. And I believe that full heartedly, wholeheartedly. We are all stories in action and we have to, we just gotta try to stay positive I guess. I don’t know if I’m making any sense
Haley – Yeah, no you are, you are! I think, do you see this too? I see a lot of wasted energy on telling each other that, or fighting with each other, I think that’s what you mean by the lateral violence, right? There’s so much wasted energy there, or like swapping trauma comparisons. And it’s like, this is not moving us forward in any fashion. Yes, yes, I agree, that’s good. Okay, is there anything else that you want to share about your story or comment on before we do recommended resources?
Christine – I forgot to mention about the role models in my life. I don’t know if I touched on that or not. But I think it’s important for people to be role models to each other. And to understand that if we can, we can be role models to each other, then we’re breaking the cycle of what’s happened to us in the past. And I've always wanted to become more than what my adoptive parents said that I was gonna be or not be, I mean. And one of my mottos is obstacles can be overcome. And that’s what I’ve done. I’ve overcome my obstacles, I’m still working on some obstacles. But amplifying the indigenous voice is also something that’s very important to me too.
Haley – Absolutely. That’s so necessary ‘cause we’re definitely not caring enough about it, I agree. Thank you for sharing your story with us, and I want to go ahead and do recommended resources. And I want to recommend a book. A listener actually sent me a link to this and so I ordered it. It’s called, Two Worlds: Lost Children of the Indian Adoption Projects. And it’s an anthology. And actually most of the stories and poems and things are from U.S. adoptees. But there is a whole section at the back that’s called First Nations Canada. And again it’s little vignettes, parts of people’s stories, there’s some poetry in here. And I haven’t finished reading all of it, but, I think just like you said, we all have a story and if you are in a place where you can share your story, I think that is where change comes from. And so I love for reading other adoptees’ stories, and it’s so inspiring. And this particular edition I have is the second edition. And it has a few changes that are noted. But in the afterword, I found it was really, really powerful. They're talking about how, the Sixties Scoop in Canada, but also what’s happened in the U.S. in the same time frame is a genocide. And it’s such a strong word and yet what else do you call it? So I really, I recommend that book, and I recommend that in general, we need to be looking more into the Sixties Scoop and understanding it so we can’t make these same mistakes again. Because it’s, I know I said this already, but it’s just shocking to me that so many Canadians don’t even understand that this is what’s happened and it’s continuing to happen in my opinion to this day. Okay. Christine, what did you wanna recommend today?
Christine – I’ve got like, quite a bit of information that I can fall back on and one of the most important books I’ve, I think, is called Stolen From Our Embrace: The Abduction of First Nations Children and The Restoration of Aboriginal Communities. It’s written by Suzanne Fornier and Ernie Crey. That book has been my mainstay for when I was doing my studies. And it made me understand my people’s history, the Sixties Scoop stuff and all that other. It challenges readers to rethink the illusion painted by the Canadian government about how effective child welfare policies are. Another book I would mention is, Raised Somewhere Else by Colleen Hele-Cardinal. That just was, that was just recently published. It’s her experience, Colleen’s experience I mean, growing up as a Sixties Scoop.
Haley – Was she was an adoptee?
Christine – She was an adoptee.
Haley – So it’s her memoir?
Christine- It’s her memoir, yes. And then the person that I, there’s like several people that I know that are really good, that are really invested in the topic of child welfare and I mean First Nation’s child welfare. And one of them is Cindy Blackstock. And she’s in charge of First Nations Caring Society in Ottawa. And she’s also a professor of social work. And she’s somebody that I, like if you can read any of her work or follow her on Twitter, I would highly recommend that, ‘cause she’s always got tidbits that are very thought provoking and interesting to read.
Haley – I was looking her up before we talked because you sent me her name. And I’m looking at her profile on McGill’s website and she has got a lot of honorary doctorates from all over. Oh that’s so cool, thank you, I love that. Alright, wonderful. Was there anything else? You mentioned this in our interview, but did you want to tell us about John Martin Doran’s thesis?
Christine- I think that’s an important thesis also because it talks about the way he was adopted into, I believe it was a Mennonite family.
Haley – So his thesis is called A Long Way Home: First Nations Adoptions and Reparations and it’s by John Martin Doran. So you were saying he was adopted likely into a Mennonite family?
Christine – And he talks in his thesis about various factors of what happened to him and what’s happened to other adoptees who have been adopted into, transracially adopted. And he, it’s just very enlightening I think. Like it’s just, I can’t explain it all because it’s very detailed.
Haley – Sure, and you know it goes back to that same thing, right? There’s so much power in our stories. And I think just learning about each other’s experiences and especially when we find those common connections, like oh my goodness, me too. It’s so powerful and so healing to know that we’re not the only ones. Thank you, thank you so much Christine. Where we connect with you online?
Christine – You can reach me on Facebook at Miskonoodinkwe Smith. On Twitter @Miskonoodinkwe.
Haley – Well I’ll put links to your social media, and your email in the show notes if that’s okay.
Christine – Yeah.
Haley – And people can connect with you those ways.
Haley – Wonderful, thanks so much for your time, and I really appreciated your insights into your own experiences and also insights into the Sixties Scoop.
If you have an idea for a great guest for our Canadian Sixties Scoop series, connect me on social media, let me know who you think I should be interviewing. We are on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook @AdopteesOn and you can find links to all social media as well on AdopteesOn.com. I’d love to connect with you there. And a huge thank you as always to my monthly supporters. You guys are making this show possible so thank you so much for your ongoing generosity. And I just want to invite you if you’re finding AdopteesOn helpful and valuable and want it to continue, come and partner with us, AdopteesOn.com/partner, helps to keep the show going. I’m so honored that you took time to listen today. Next week we will be back with Boundaries, Part 2 with Lesli Johnson and then we’ll be continuing on in the Sixties Scoop series. Thanks so much for listening, let’s talk again next Friday.