114 [S6 E114] Inez Cook

Transcript

Full show notes: https://www.adopteeson.com/listen/e114

Episode Transcription by Fayelle Ewuakye. Find her on Twitter at @FayelleEwuakye


Haley - This show is listener supported. You can join us and help our show grow to support more adoptees by going to AdopteesOn.com/partner.

(intro music)

You’re listening to Adoptees On, the podcast where adoptees discuss the adoption experience. This is episode 114, Inez. I’m your host Haley Radke. I’m so honored to bring you Inez Cooke today, who is the owner of a First Nations restaurant in Vancouver called Salmon and Bannock. Inez shares her story with us, how she spent time searching for identity all around the world and how she came to find it back in Canada. We discuss finding out about the Sixties Scoop as an adult, the power and importance of food as a way to explore her culture and how her new book will be available to educate children across Canada about the Sixties Scoop. We do mention bannock a few times and I just want to tell you, that that is a name for a traditional, indigenous bread, and it’s delicious. We wrap with some recommended resources and as always, links to everything we’ll be mentioning today are on the website AdopteesOn.com. Let’s listen in.

I’m so pleased to welcome to Adoptees On, Inez Cook, welcome!

Inez - Hi, how are you?

Haley - I’m doing well. Thank you so much for coming on the show and I’m just really excited to hear your story, so would you start out with that? Would you share your story with us?

Inez - My name is Inez Cooke and I am part of the Sixties Scoop. I was born in Bella Coola, British Columbia, part of the Nuxalk nation, and I was taken away at age 1. I was put into foster care and you know, I’m one of the fortunate ones. I ended up in a home where this family, they had 8 children of their own, and I was the 23rd foster child that they’d brought in. And you know at the time, when they brought me, they said can you just bring her to her health and they said no, we’re full, we don’t have any space, we can’t do it anymore and we’re getting older and we grow to love these kids and then they get adopted out and we can't handle it anymore. And they said please just bring her to her health. So they brought me in and I was the last foster child that they’d brought in to this home. And I stayed with them for 2 years and then they tried to adopt me. And the government said they were too old to adopt me, so their daughter adopted me. So they became my grandparents. And their daughter became my mother. So I was really lucky in the fact that I really grew up in a family and surrounding of love which was great. And the people that were my siblings for the first two years ended up being my aunts and uncle. And my mother. So that was really, really cool, it kept us all really close which, so my story’s a little different than others. I recognize that not everybody has had such a good beginning I guess, like a good situation out of a bad situation I guess you could say? I mean of course we all have personal stories that we’ve gone through and nothing’s been perfect. But I have to say that I was given a family of love and I grew up knowing that I was adopted. I didn’t know the situation about why I was adopted or anything like that. And I kind of made up a story in my head, which I found out later wasn’t true, obviously. But I really, I was a dreamer and I liked making up stories and I was always writing plays when I was little and I loved making up stories about what really happened and why I was adopted. And growing up I was always told I was the chosen one, I was always told that. All the other parents had to keep what they had and we got to choose you. So they always made me feel really special which was, you know, it’s very appreciated especially now looking back and hearing other people’s stories and hearing other people’s experiences. You know, I really respect and value that, I had that core. I knew that I was native and when I was little, we moved up to, my dad got positioned at a job in Northwest Territories in Hay River. And I was in grade 2 and we moved up there and you know I saw drunk people in the ditch, I saw a lot of broken souls and scary people in my eyes as a little young girl. And I was like, who are these people? And they said they’re natives, and I just looked at them and I said, I'm not native. And that was the end of that and nobody was allowed to call me native. Ever. And you know growing up I used to try to fool people because my name was Inez, and I look like I could be Latina. I actually tried studying some Spanish trying to fool people, trying to pretend that I was Spanish. My document said that I was part Italian so I really worked that because of my Mediterranean coloring, I used to say I was Italian. You know, I really, I really hid away from myself. And I didn’t wanna know about my native heritage, I didn't wanna belong to it. But the interesting thing is, is that my whole life I felt like, I felt different. And even though I was in this great family filled with love, I felt like I was still different than everybody else. And it was more than just looking at the family photos where everybody’s blonde and fair complexion and I'm the dark one, it was more than that. I just felt like I was yearning, yearning, yearning, yearning for culture. And I felt like these mountains in Vancouver were stagnating me and I needed to jump higher and I needed to find culture. And so when I was 19 I guess, I must have just turned 19, I just finished studied radio broadcasting and I studied radio broadcasting in Vancouver. And I thought I would move to Toronto and go work for MuchMusic and you know I thought that was just gonna be easy and that was my calling. And I got there and I didn't have any experience, I was fresh outta school. So I said well I would work as an intern for free, and they said that it was unionized and there was no free positions to be had. So you know, the school of life came up. It was expensive, 1988 in Toronto, very expensive and I had to have three jobs just to pay my rent. And then I ended up moving to Montreal. And I studied French in Montreal. And the interesting thing was is, the reason I decided to move to Montreal and study French was because I had had a job interview with Wardair in 1988 in Toronto. And they said I got through my three interviews, and they said, you know what? We would love to hire you, but the other applicant speaks French. And we know that wasn’t a prerequisite, but it is definitely an asset and we’re gonna have to take them. And they said is there anything that you’d like to say. And I looked them straight in the eye and said this will be the last time anybody tells me that that is gonna be a reason that I don’t get a job. So I moved to Montreal and I studied French. And you know, I was still looking for culture and still yearning for this. I needed to meet the world and I needed the world to meet me and it was just, it was a strange, it was a strange thing. But, also backing up a little bit, when I was 13 my first job was at Boston Pizza as a dishwasher. And it’s hilarious because when I finished my radio broadcasting course, my best friend finished her university, her teaching course, and we went out to celebrate and I looked at her and I said, what do you wanna be when you grow up? And she’d just finished her teaching course and she said, I wanna be a makeup artist in film. And she’d just finished her teaching course. And I’d just finished my broadcasting and I said, I wanna be a flight attendant and own my own restaurant. And that was something that we said to each other, you know, when we were 18.

Haley - Wow.

Inez - So I had kept my toes wet my whole life working in restaurants. When I was in Toronto, I worked at 3 restaurants just to pay my bills. I was part of a team that opened up a 5 star restaurant. I was new to Toronto, I wanted to make friends. I thought I should go and work at a place where there’s a lot of people and I can meet lots of people and build like a little family and get in right away. So that’s what I did in Toronto with my three jobs, was all in restaurants. Then I moved to Montreal and I had to work under the table because I was getting my French classes paid by the government, 40 hours a week, 5 days a week French. And I needed to pay my bills, so I was working under the table in restaurants. And you know, so I kept my toes wet the whole time in the industry, and then one day there was a tiny little ad saying flight attendants urgently needed. Please call this number. Well I’d called the number all day and it was busy, busy, busy, busy, busy. I couldn’t get through. And at that time we used to be able to call the operator and do like a cross check with the number and get the address. So I showed up at the address, at this place. Like a stalker. And I said, hi I’d like to apply for the flight attendant position, and they said, uh how did you find us? And I’m like well, I have to go to work now, and I’ve been trying to call you all day and it’s been busy and I need to reach somebody. They said well do you have a resume? And I said, I’ll provide you with my resume when you provide me with an interview. And so they gave me an interview, set a date, and I went off to work. And then I started flying. So that was, 1989, I started flying for Nationair out of Montreal. And they went bankrupt, no that was 1990. So ‘93 they went bankrupt. And when they went bankrupt, we had had a contract in the Middle East in Saudi Arabia and a European airline took over the contract. And hired 23 of us Canadians who are now at the time jobless. So I went and I worked with this European airline and I was based in Saudi Arabia, Africa, India, you know all over the world. And the entire time I was still yearning for culture. And living in the Middle East, I lived there for 5 and a half years. And you know I can manage in Arabic now, shopping, taxis, restaurants. I love the food, I love the music, I had big, all my heartbreaks were there. You know, I tried to even pretend I was like Middle Eastern of some sort. Like I really felt like I belonged. But I didn’t. I didn’t belong. At the end of the day I just didn't. And when I quit flying overseas, I got hired with Air Canada back in Vancouver and my mom was ill and it was time for me to come home. And it had been the first time in a long time that Air Canada was hiring French speakers. ‘Cause I came home for Christmas, I did my Air Canada interviews and I moved back home. And just before I left, my friends over in Saudi Arabia, they threw a big party for me and because my dream was to still open a restaurant, but I thought it was gonna be my retirement goal. I thought you know, my dream was to take people on a journey. And I wanted to take people, I wanted them to feel like they’ve traveled and they’d been on this journey. Because I’ve traveled and I've seen the world and I really, really, really wanted people to experience traveling and a different experience and all of those things. And I started flying with Air Canada and there started to be, I started to meet lots of like indigenous colleagues. And these people were amazing, they were role models. So I used to ask them questions and I started asking little questions here and there. And just trying to understand you know, a little bit more about, and they were proud. They were so proud to be indigenous, proud to be First Nations. And I thought, wow, that’s just incredible, it’s amazing. And it was after I came back and after I actually got my status back, I got it reinstated. And there’d been a bill that had passed, because through the Scoop, through the Sixties Scoop, our families had to sign away our status. So I grew up without status and I got it back as an adult. But I got it back after I started flying for Air Canada. And so I never ticked off the box like visible minority. They said are you visible minority and I thought that’s the most ridiculous question I’ve ever heard. You know, I don’t feel like a visible minority and I don’t really know what that really is actually. So I answered no and it wasn’t until a couple years after I’d been flying that at the time Chief Phil Fontaine, National Chief Phil Fontaine was the National Chief. And he was on my flight and I said oh what are you doing in Vancouver? And he said well, I actually with a meeting with Air Canada, I need to make sure that they’ve hired enough, there’s a quota, they have to hire x amount of indigenous people. And I was like, really, I didn't know about that. Well I guess I’ll put my name on the list. And that was kind of the beginning when I started to kind of understand that I actually am indigenous. And once I got my status back, I could look at the picture and kind of go okay, like this is weird. But, you know, I didn't feel indigenous.

Haley - ‘Cause you had decided, in grade 2, you’re like, you’ve wrote this line in your book, “I knew I was native, but I did not want to be.”

Inez - I did not want to be. And I didn't want anybody to know either. That was like really important to me. So when I started asking questions to my colleagues, and you know one of the colleagues in my initial training at Air Canada, she’s native and I was like, oh my god, do you make bannock and she’s like, well my mom does sometimes. And I was like, oh you have to give me your recipe. And I started to get interested in like just little things. And little things that I remembered when I was little, they started to come back to me and I started to have like a larger interest. Then I get married, I get divorced, when I'm going through my divorce, I need a little getaway, I need to just get out of the city and just kinda clear my thoughts, and one of my best friends lives in Kelowna, so I go hang out with her and drink some wine and just chill. And she’s driving me back to the airport and I see a big sign, “Don’t Panic, We have Bannock.” And I'm like, oh my god, stop the car, I need to go there now. And so we stopped and we went and got bannock and I brought a bunch of it back and I told my close friend Remy, you know, the Olympics are coming to Vancouver and we don’t have an indigenous restaurant in this city anymore. Like it’s ridiculous. There’s one in Kelowna and there’s nothing in Vancouver. And the entire world is coming here. And we no longer have anything indigenous. Like, a restaurant that they can go to. Like when I travel the world I like to try food from the land, I like to try local food. So I just thought that was really odd. And he’s like, oh my god, I’ll work day and night, let’s make it happen. And I said I'm going through my divorce, I don’t have money, it’s not the right time. Anyways, things ended up kind of, doors started opening, and this lady that we knew basically needed us to sublet her restaurant. Like her daughter’s restaurant. I was like, how’s your daughter doing? You didn’t hear? She had a car accident, she can’t run her restaurant anymore. I wish somebody would take it over. So basically it was kind of like, what? All the doors kind of opened and we just dove in. And we opened Salmon and Bannock bistro, February 15th, 2010. The day after the Olympics started. And it was interesting because I had to, I wanted it authentic. And I still didn't feel that native and I didn’t feel that authentic. And so I went to a local community here and I asked who makes the best bannock? And I hired a mother and daughter team and we started super small with about 5 items on the menu. And now I mean, we’ve grown, our menu’s grown, our staff has grown. And it’s funny because I thought that after opening this restaurant, all the communities would welcome us with open arms. And that wasn’t the case at all, because I was a stranger. I was like an alien. Nobody knew me. And in the indigenous communities, in the indigenous world, especially the business world, you know you hear of business opening up, you would’ve hear of them, or you would have heard about them or you would have known someone in their family. Or you would have known something about them. But to see all over the media, that a Nuxalk person opened this restaurant, it caused a lot of alert and questions. Especially in the Nuxalk

community. They were like, who’s claiming to be Nuxalk? And we don’t know them? Like that’s impossible. So they sent in people to check it out and I guess the first people that came to check it out, saw me and met me and went back and reported back saying like, I don’t think she’s lying. She looks Nuxalk. So then they had so send in somebody older to check. And you know, it’s funny because Remy’s French and I’m First Nations and he used to get a lot of grief from a lot of people like, why are you a white person working at this native restaurant? And so I said well, you know what, I’m getting the same grief from the same people because nobody knows me. So it was interesting because this lady had come in and she was you know, asking me a ton of questions and I knew a couple of answers and thankfully I knew my biological mother’s name was Miriam. I went and got the lady her tea, and when I came back and I brought her, her tea, she was standing there with her arms extended saying, let me be the first to welcome you home, we’re family. And when that happened, that was really really, really the beginning of like an onion peeling back the layers of understanding who I am, where I come from, you know, my history, my biological mother’s story. And you know after that, several relatives came in to meet me. An uncle had come in to meet me and he had promised my late biological mother that he would find me. And when he found me he did a traditional blessing for the restaurant. And he looked at me and he said, your traditional name is gonna be Snitsmana. And he went back and reported to the community that that’s what was gonna happen. And he passed away shortly after so I was really fortunate that I had that moment with him, that special moment with him.

Haley - So what does mean for you then, to have this, oh my goodness, there is a whole other family. And you had said that in your childhood you had fantasized a little bit but none of that was true or accurate. So in your adulthood then, knowing you have this other family, and you do have this heritage, what was going on for you when you’re discovering this?

Inez - So I have a biological sister, we also met as adults. And I said well, if I'm going out there, you’re coming with me. I’m not doing this one alone. And we went up together and it was a three day potlatch. We met 500 relatives. And you know, it was like extremely emotional. It still is emotional actually. But it was a little bit, it was overwhelming because it was 2 of us and 500 of them.

Haley - Was your sister taken in the Scoop as well?

Inez - Yes.

Haley - And adopted into a different family?

Inez - Yes. And she grew up in North Van. Yeah. So it’s, it was definitely eye opening and basically just the beginning of really understanding and going to Bella Coola and meeting family and just understanding. I've been fortunate enough I've been back three times now and I've been building relationships with relatives and learning more of the story which is great. And it’s helped me immensely. And the cool thing is, is that now I realize that this restaurant is actually, it’s a personal journey that I'm taking everybody on. And I'm not taking anybody traveling far, I’m taking them traveling within and inwards in my personal journey. And that’s what makes Salmon and Bannock so special.

Haley - So as you reconnect with your sister, and you find out you know, some of the things that were actually true about your past that you just couldn’t have known since you were so young, and you learned about the Sixties Scoop, what was that like for you? Knowing what was taken from you?

Inez - I think, well when my sister phoned me and she said there’s a class action lawsuit for the Sixties Scoop and you should fill out the forms. And at first I was like, no, I’m not going to, that’s just for the people that had a rough go and I had a good life and I'm not gonna fill out the forms. And furthermore, I don’t wanna throw my family under the bus. And then I thought about it and I thought no, do you know what? Like, thank goodness I had a good life. But it’s not about that. It’s the domino effect of what happened prior which was wrong. And there’s strength in numbers so most definitely I have to sign that paper. So that’s kinda where my thoughts were.

Haley - And do you know how many other children were taken from Bella Coola?

Inez - No, I never asked actually.

Haley - I wondered, I was picturing you going back and meeting these 500 relatives and, you and your sister, and wondering how many other people were impacted by losing their connection to their children.

Inez - I mean, our biological mother, she was fluent in the Nuxalk language and when she was at the Day Residential School, the Residential Day School in Bella Coola, she spoke her language and they poured boiling hot water on her.

Haley - Oh!

Inez - Until she had third degree burns. And she was hospitalized for three months. And the family would visit her daily and the government once said, oh no, this is too much family involvement. So they uprooted her from the hospital and they transferred her to the Residential School in Alert Bay. So she never got to grow up being a daughter, a sister, she never had a mother daughter relationship with her own mother. She didn’t get to grow up with her family. And you know, it was interesting, because I’d heard different stories of how broken she was. Once I started meeting relatives and you know, about, as soon as they found me, about 100 Facebook requests came up on my Facebook feed from family in Bella Coola. And I thought how on earth could she had been so broken with such a large family? You know, I just couldn’t understand it, I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. Because you can only think about the experience that you’ve had with your family. So you know, if I had 500 family members that I grew up with, like I would hopefully not be in a broken state. I just couldn’t understand how that could happen. And then when I went to Bella Coola and I met relatives and I started hearing some of her stories as well as others, you know and I started putting the puzzle together and everything started to make sense and I thought, you know what it? This little girl was worth less. She was worth less all the other little girls. And when she actually finally had a small chance, a window of opportunity, when she started having her own children, being able to start a new life, a new beginning, a new traditions with her own family, she couldn’t even do that. We were taken away as well. Why? Because she was worth less. So I think about this lady and I think about everything she went through. And I think from a little girl to adulthood, she was worth less all the other girls. And that breaks my heart.

Haley - I’m so sorry, I know that she passed away before you had the opportunity to meet her. And that’s just so heartbreaking. You know, in researching the Sixties Scoop for this series and reading more about the residential schools in Canada, it’s absolutely abhorrent. I mean the things that happened and were not just happening, but like government sanctioned and just horrendous, horrendous, it’s just such a horrible part of Canada’s history. And I, you know I want people to learn about it because, Miriam, your biological mother’s a real person. And she represents so many people who had such a terrible time at the hands of our government and some very, very horrible people.

Inez - Yeah, and understanding like as a little girl, if we drove by a man in Hastings, I probably would have locked the car door, you know? And my biological mother could have been on the other side of that door window. And that breaks my heart. It’s just thinking that. It’s just, and thinking, seeing so many people still have judgement hats on. And my mom now, she has Alzheimer’s and explaining to her that I was joining the class action lawsuit at the beginning was a little bit tough for her and then I explained, I really explained to her well. But now that she has Alzheimer’s it’s interesting because she actually understands better now. And she said, sweetie I understand, it wasn’t us. And I said no, you didn’t do anything wrong, you gave this child that needed a home, a home with love. That wasn’t, that wasn’t on you, it was prior to you. Why was my mother, my biological mother broken to begin with? Why couldn’t she look after her kids, you know? And just understanding that, because it’s amazing how many people still you know, have, wear judgement hats and they really think that the colonization way was the right way. They really, people still believe that. And it just amazes me that they think that their way is the right way. And they think, oh yeah, okay so kill the Indian, wash the Indian out of the kid. Like whatever it is, like whatever we think is ancient history books. Well the last Residential school closed in ‘96. That’s not that ancient, you know?

Haley - Yeah. And the legacy of trauma and those things like, I don’t know, I don’t even have words for it. It’s so upsetting and I don’t even, I don’t have a personal relationship or experience with that. Yeah, it’s really quite shocking. You wrote about your personal story in a children’s book. And you know, we’re talking about some very difficult things here. Why did you decide to write Sixties Scoop as a children’s book?

Inez - Well I think that you know, the schools are starting to include First Nations indigenous curriculums more and more. And now that there’s dialogue being brought up about it, I think it’s important. You know we never had these stories when we were younger. We never knew anything about this. I didn’t know until I was an adult that I was a part of the Sixties Scoop. So of course I understand that there’s other adults that have never heard of it, I’m part of it and I didn’t even realize until adulthood. And so it’s interesting because I’ve had a lot of feedback from adults of course. But recently I’ve been getting feedback from children and that is just amazing. And children can handle the truth. And they can tell when you’re telling them a story whether it’s true. And you know, what they get from it, is a little bit different than when the adults get from it. But it’s opening up dialogue which I think is really important.

Haley - So I ordered your book and I've read it a few times and I've had it sitting on my coffee table. And I have two young boys. And my older is in grade 1 and he can read. And so he was picking it up and I was telling him today, I said, oh yeah, I get to talk to Inez today, she’s the one that wrote this book. And he said, oh the book with, he was so like overcome, he was so moved by it. And I do think that, I agree with you. I think that children understand what’s true and what’s not. And they do need to hear about some of the challenging things. How can we not repeat history if we don’t understand what’s happened?

Inez - Yeah and all kids, it doesn’t matter where they’re from, they’ve all felt something, like all kids have similar feelings at some time. You know, in their life. Where they don’t feel accepted of wanted or belonging or any of those things. So me just kind of spelling it out, people kind of go oh, hey, I’m not alone.

Haley - Yes.

Inez - They can relate to different parts of the book.

Haley - Yes. And you write, as I said, some very challenging experiences in here and then you also have, you know, this really happy news of finding that you have a sister. And so there’s you know, this hopeful part of reconnection which you’ve experienced in your real life. And I found it so fascinating as you were talking through your story and how the search for culture, took you literally around the world. And it was back in BC where you sort of found yourself again. Can you talk a little bit more about that? Coming back to Canada, and opening your restaurant and can you pinpoint a moment where you finally could accept sort of both parts of you? Like I’m Inez, I was adopted, and I have this loving family but I also had a history before that?

Inez - It was gradual. But after going to Bella Coola for the first time, was the first time that, that I was super accepting about learning about it. And owning it.

Haley - Looking at this, as I said, there’s kind of like these two parts of you. But how did you go from, you said, I’m gonna repeat this line again. I knew I was native but I did not want to be. To, I am indigenous and this is a part of me and I want to accept that and also be that.

Inez - And I am so proud. Now I’m so proud. And I'm so proud that guests can come into our restaurant and we get to showcase our heritage with pride, all of us and our whole team was indigenous. And I'm in the process of, Remy’s in the process of leaving the business so it’s gonna be 100% First Nations owned and operated. It was interesting ‘cause when I started learning about you know, my biological mother and lots of the heartaches and the things, you know there’s, that have caused so many problems across our nation, once it started learning about some of that. And I started sharing with my friends. You know my friends were like, oh my god, that’s terrible and like, very, very dramatic about it, as was I. But you know I was gutted. But I would tell my First Nations friends and they would just look at me like I was saying, I think I’m gonna have a tea instead of coffee today. They were just like look at me, listening, and I looked at one of my friends and I snapped my finger and I went, that. I wanna get there, how do I get there. And she said you know Inez, it’s simple because all of us have a story. And just remembering that, every single person has a story. And when they’re sharing it with you, listen to their story. you know, it’s not about judging, leave the judgement hat off and listen to their story. And I'm there now which is great, I've come full circle. And I think probably that the next time that I heard some shocking news and I realized that I was listening like it was a story, I think that’s when I realized, okay. I’m in it, I’m here. You know? And that was a really amazing feeling. It was really fantastic.

Haley - So can you talk to someone, an adoptee like yourself, who perhaps didn't really know the extent of the Sixties Scoop, maybe didn't really want to think about themselves as an indigenous person, can you talk to someone like that and just tell them what exploring this and embracing and being proud, like what that’s done for you?

Inez - So my whole life, not wanting to be who I was, and as an adult learning who I was and where I’d come from, you know knowledge is power. And you know that horrible feeling that you have in the pit in your stomach of not belonging or not feeling like, just feeling different is a horrible feeling. And learning about yourself and learning about your heritage and your history, it’s really, really, it’s the most freeing feeling you could ever imagine. And the funny thing is that now that I’ve been learning about it and I feel so good in my own skin. Like it’s the first time in my life, I feel amazing in my own skin. And it’s freedom, you know? Just feeling good in your own skin and owning that and then people just celebrate that with you.

Haley - I love that, saying I feel amazing in my own skin.

Inez - I do.

Haley - Again, we’re doing this whole circle thing. You’re describing this picture of your family, when everyone is fair and has blonde hair and your skin is the different thing in the picture to saying, I feel amazing this way. And this is me.

Inez - Yeah, well I think kids don’t like feeling different usually. You know, they wanna feel like they belong and knowing where you come from is already a foot in the right direction on how to belong, because you need to belong in your own skin, right? That’s probably the most important thing to really understand. And it didn't happen overnight, and I’m not gonna say that it did, ‘cause it didn’t.

Haley - Yeah, I mean, this is like, discovering who you are is sort of a lifelong process anyway, and then when you’re an adoptee, there’s just a whole extra layer on that I think.

Inez - Once I really felt good in my own skin, I thought that all the other people that weren’t adopted, I thought that’s how they feel their whole life. I didn’t realize that it’s just human nature to have different questions. But I just thought, I finally feel good in my own skin, this is how every single person that wasn’t adopted felt their entire life from birth? Oh my god.

Haley - So there’s this thing that a lot of adopted people, if you listen to my show, we call coming out of the fog. And what that sort of means is, it’s when you finally realize the impact adoption has had on your life. And you come to the realization of kind of just that, like, oh wait, other people don’t think about this? Where did I come from? They just know?

Inez - And then another thing is going to Bella Coola and meeting 500 relatives. I mean that’s not even all of them. And like, then asking them like, how are we related? And them saying, oh I don’t know, we have to check. That was like, what do you mean you don’t know? I thought that they would all know everything too and they don’t.

Haley - Yeah, well I guess when you have 500 relative it’s sort of like, are you first cousins, second cousins, all the things? Oh good well, thank you so much, I really appreciated chatting with you. Let’s move now and we’ll do our recommended resources. So this isn’t probably gonna be a surprise to anyone, I'm gonna recommend that you pick up Inez’s book called Sixties Scoop. As I said, it’s a children’s book, but it is so profound in the matter of fact way that you share your story. And I really feel that adults also will be very moved reading your story in this fashion. And oh my gosh the illustrations are really quite incredible, Inez. Where did you find your artist?

Inez - Yeah, well he found me, actually. Jason Eaglespeaker. He’s the illustrator and he also published it. And so he actually reached out to me and asked if I felt like sharing my story.

Haley - It’s really beautiful, really, really beautiful. And also I wanna recommend that people go and visit your restaurant, and I come to Vancouver semi regularly. So next time I’m there I definitely wanna come. I’m celiac, but I saw that you do gluten free bannocks so—

Inez - Yes. And make sure you say that when you reserve.

Haley - Okay, I will. I will.

Inez - If you’re around on June 21st, that’s National Indigenous People’s Day. We have a fantastic evening set up, it’s gonna be filled with laughter and delicious food. So we have two comedians coming in, there’s gonna be two seatings, an early one and a late one, and yeah, I recommend that people come in and book for that.

Haley - Oh it looks amazing, and researching you, I saw that Salmon and Bannock is in the top ten restaurants on TripAdvisor for all of Vancouver which is like, you guys, Vancouver is a huge city. There’s thousands of restaurants. And your reviews, I was getting really hungry.

Inez - Awesome.

Haley - Yeah, so, yeah if you’re around in June, that sounds really great. Now there’s also another thing that, you wanted to just give a little bit of advice. Something that you didn’t know when you were first kind of on this journey. But if you are a First Nations person, what’s something that you didn’t know, that you know now but that people need to know?

Inez - Yeah so I think the one thing that shocked me the most is that I didn't know being a First Nations person, that I could just call the Nuxalk Band Office and say, hi, my name’s Inez, and my mother’s name is Miriam, and do you know any information about her. Is she there? I didn’t know that I could do that. And learn about it, like from the beginning. I didn’t know that.

Haley - So there’s info available if you just ask. And you can just call the Band Office.

Inez - Yeah, exactly.

Haley - Yeah, great.

Inez - And like, when I called the Band Office for the first time, it was like, the girl was like, oh I’m your cousin.

Haley - Of course!

Inez - Of course.

Haley - You have 500 relatives there, right? Oh my gosh, I love that, that’s so good. Okay, where we can we connect with you online?

Inez - So I have, I’m on Instagram, I think my personal one, well if you check Inez Cook, it should come up. I think it’s, @imisky.

Haley - I will link to your social media handles in the show notes. And what’s your restaurant’s website?

Inez - www.salmonandbannock.net.

Haley - And that’s where you can make reservations, especially for the upcoming National Indigenous People’s Day which is that June 21st dinner and comedy that you were telling us about.

Inez - Yes.

Haley - That would be great, okay. And if you go, I wanna hear about it, so you gotta message me and tell me how it was. I love standup. That’s so good. And good food. Thank you, thank you so much for sharing your story with us and I just really, so impressed by your story and oh my gosh, I’m going back to now, having that moment with your friend when you’re 18 and you wanna be a flight attendant and have your own restaurant. And you’re living it!

Inez - I am living it. I’m actually going to London tonight.

Haley - Well thank you so much for squeezing me in.

Inez - Yeah! It’s my pleasure, thanks for having me.

Haley - I just wanna let you know, that Inez’s book, Sixties Scoop, is available on Amazon and it’s now on both English and French. So make sure you go check that out, it’s such a great resource and would be a welcome addition to, especially your school library, if you have children of your own, and you wanna talk to them more about the Sixties Scoop and educate them. I think this is a perfect resource for that. I just want to shift gears and say a giant thank you to everyone for listening. I so appreciate having the opportunity to be in your earbuds every week, helping you through your boredom of your commute or working out, or walking the dog or whatever you’re doing while you’re listening. It is an honor and I don’t take it lightly. And I also wanna say thank you to my monthly Patreon supporters. Without you I wouldn’t be able to keep doing this show regularly, and I'm just so honored that you support the show in this way. If you want to become a monthly partner you can go to AdopteesOn.com/partner to find out more details and the added benefits of becoming a Patreon supporter. We have things like a secret group for adoptees only and also there is a totally new Adoptees Off Script podcast. So if you’re running out of AdopteesOn episodes to binge, there is another whole podcast there waiting for you if you become a monthly supporter. Thanks for listening, let’s talk again next Friday.

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110 [S6 E110] Dr. Raven Sinclair

Transcript

Full show notes: https://www.adopteeson.com/listen/e110raven

Episode Transcription by Fayelle Ewuakye. Find her on Twitter at @FayelleEwuakye


This show is listener supported. You can join us and help our show grow to support more adoptees, by going to AdopteesOn.com/partner.

(intro music)

Haley - You’re listening to Adoptees On. The podcast where adoptees discuss the adoption experience. This is episode 110, Dr. Raven Sinclair. I’m your host Haley Radke. Today we are starting a new series on the Canadian Sixties Scoop. And if you’re not familiar yet with that terminology, my guest today, Dr. Raven Sinclair, is gonna teach us all about what that means. Dr. Sinclair shares some of her personal story with us, how she rediscovered her indigenous culture and we also talk about how to connect with other Sixties Scoop survivors, and access information about the Sixties Scoop settlement. We wrap up with some recommended resources and as always, links to all of the things we’ll be talking about today are on the website AdopteesOn.com. let’s listen in.

(upbeat music)

Haley -I’m so pleased to welcome to Adoptees On, Dr. Raven Sinclair. Welcome!

Thank you! Pleasure to be here!

Haley -I’d love for you to start out, the way we always do, would you share some of your story with us?

Sure. I was born in 1961. And that’s sort of an interesting time in Canadian history, you know lots of things were happening then. And it’s, you know, when I look back it’s, I see the dusty prairie, and I see you know, the bill of rights coming out and I see the social and sexual revolution starting. It was a great time to be born really. But I was, I was born in a little small town in Alberta. My dad was a farm laborer. And I was the 8th or 9th of eventually 11 children. And my father passed away when I was just about 6 weeks old. And so my mother was left a single mom at 28 with 8 children. And she managed to survive in this small town for a period of time, but then she moved back to Saskatoon so that she could be, you know have the support of her sister. So we moved into the west side of Saskatoon. And you know at that time, urbanization among indigenous people was still, was just beginning. And so we moved into, of course, a neighborhood that was primarily non indigenous people. And so we would, you know, people were a little bit suspicious, a little bit curious about us as well. ‘Cause you know, two women in a small house with about 14 or 15 kids. And we were under a fair bit of scrutiny, at least that’s what my oldest brother tells me. And so they would call the police or the authorities sort of at any drop of the hat. And one day when my mother and her sister had gone out, they called Social Services. So at that time, I was about 3, and I remember the day. I remember holding my oldest sister’s hand. And the police car was there and the social workers were there. And then I don’t have sort of a lot of memory, I know that we went to, we were taken to Kilburn hall. Which right now, it’s a juvenile detention center, but at that time it was an emergency shelter or a receiving home for kids who were being taken into care. And we spent a little bit of time there and then we were put in foster care, sort of all over the city. Now, I was placed in a foster home with one of my sisters. And then we had two siblings who were placed next door. And when the foster parents got along, then we were allowed to play together and do things together but when they, at some point they started fighting and so we were not even allowed to go and see our siblings. And you know, but for me the insulating factor was that I had one of my older sisters with me and she sort of took care of me. Because that was a really violent home. And we were physically, emotionally, psychologically abused and then sexually abused by the foster son as well. And I, you know from what we can, what I can recollect, I was there for probably about 8 months. And my sister was there for a little bit longer, not much longer, a little bit. And then on my 5th birthday I was placed in my adoptive home, which was you know, in the newest suburb of Saskatoon. Now it’s sort of, it’s one of those neighborhoods that’s sort of in the middle of the city. But at the time, at the end of our block was the wide open prairie. And I was placed with a university professor and his wife who was a psychiatric nurse. And in my adoptive family, I had two older brothers and a sister who was about 8 months older. But my mother artificially twinned us, and there’s some information in the literature about that. It was a little, it was kind of cute, because my sister was blonde and blue eyed, and I was brown and brown eyed. And it was kinda cute to put us in matching outfits and the visual contrast. But it caused, it caused a lot of problems, particularly for my sister. And I don’t know that she ever actually recovered from my sort of, sudden installation into the family. Yeah, so you know, it was a really good home in many respects. We traveled. Shortly after I was placed, about 8 months later, we moved to west Germany, ‘cause my dad was a professor and he went on sabbatical. And so I started school in West Germany. In a little village outside of a university city called Tübingen. So I lived in a little village called Wankheim. And you know, in my child mind, everybody spoke English, but no, we learned, we spoke German. We became fluent, really, really quickly. And it was a really great educational system and so when we came back to Canada, we were all accelerated a grade, ‘cause we learned how to read and write, and add, subtract, multiply, divide. Came back to Canada and they handed me this big fat pencil and you know, wanted us to practice our ABCs and we’d been already writing with fountain pens. So I was like, okay. So I kinda twiddled my thumbs for a bit of time. But you know, it really helped me educationally I suppose. So we stayed in Saskatoon for a number of years and then my father got a ministerial appointment in Toronto at a United Church. And then, couple of years after that, he was appointed Dean of the Elegy at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario. And so you know, I had a bit of moving around, I went to like 11 schools, and not because we moved all the time, but because we came back to Saskatoon and we moved to a different sort of neighborhood, so I had to go to different school. We went to Toronto, lived in one neighborhood. Then I went to grade 7, so then I had to go to another school. And so I ended up going to 11 schools in 10 years. And you know it was difficult enough because as an indigenous child. You know kids are kinda mean. And if you’re different, then you’re a target. And I don’t know how much of it was, there was racism for sure but, but a lot of it was just ‘cause kids are mean to each other. And so, you know, so I sort of reconciled that a little bit, but, it was really challenging for me. And that was, that compounded the trauma I had of being taken away from a very loving, very nurturing, strong large family unit, into this entirely new culture, family, socioeconomic context. And with totally different expectations. So I developed a little bit of a chameleon nature, you know to adapt. I really learned, I learned sort of how to be classist, and racist, and you know, ‘cause I understood that. I had certain privileges in my adoptive family, that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Haley - Did you get to stay connected to any of your siblings?

Raven - No, no I didn't even, I mean as a kid one of the things that you do is if, if something’s really painful, then your memory steps in and you forget. So even though, I, my visible brownness was always a reminder that I was adopted, that I was not really a member of my family, a biological member of my family, I didn’t really have any understanding or conception that my family was real. That my birth family was real. And that they actually existed. And that was part of the thinking of the day that, when you’re adopted you just become part of your adoptive family and forget the past a kind of move on. That’s really problematic for indigenous adoptees, because you know that you’re different, and you’ll always know that you’re different, and at some point you start to wonder, well where did I come from, and who are my people and who looks like me. And yeah, so I, I just did my best to repress any thoughts or memories or longings for my family and carried on as if they just didn’t exist. And by the time I was a young adult, I really didn’t know whether or not they did exist. But you know the trauma, the traumas, eventually they manifest. And so by the time I was a teenager, I couldn’t handle school anymore because I was so lonely and so isolated. So I dropped out of high school at the end of 10th grade. I don’t, that wasn’t a really great idea because then I was sort of left floundering, you know. I started working as soon as I could. But you know I also became aware, I moved out and was living with friends and became aware that the lifestyle that we were living which involved a lot of substances, I was encountering people that I hadn’t ever, sort of grown up with. So I became keenly aware that this was not the lifestyle that really fit for me. And so, so I did a number of things. I did construction work, outside labor for about a year. And then I joined the military. I joined the Reserves, so I did it full time for the summer, part time for the winter. And then I was gonna go off and do the regular forces. And I was gonna become an electronics technician. So that was all set and then, I had an encounter with someone who said you know, that’s probably not a good idea for you. It was actually a psychic who said, you know, you have a lot of things you need to do in this life and if you go into the military, you’ll do none of them. And you know, I was kinda annoyed because I was really, I had my future all set. You know I’d already discovered that when you’re in the military, you don’t have to think, you only have to do what you’re told. And then the rewards come. So I was a little bit annoyed but there was something about what she said that resonated for me and so I withdrew my application from the military and kind of went off to live my life without really knowing what that involved. So when I was 19 one summer, I was working north of Toronto, doing outside work. And was in Toronto in the subway one day, and I saw this sign on the subway platform that said, are you a high school dropout? And do you wanna go to University? Well, call this number. And I called and it was, the University of Toronto had what they had a transitional year program. And so if you have dropped out or you haven’t had access to education for some reason, you can go into this program and they’ll help you sort of upgrade your skills, it’s like an upgrading program. And if you pass it then you can gain access to university. So that’s what I did. And then from that point, I basically stayed in university for the next 23 years. You know, I mean, it wasn’t, it took a long time because the first ten years really was my recovery. So I would take a class, and I would work full time and then I would spend a fair bit of money on therapy and counseling and doing group work and all those kinds of things because I knew that I was pretty traumatized and I, that there was something going on. So from, I’d say about 24 – 34 I really did a lot of recovery work. By the time I was in my early 30s, I felt fairly stable. And that was when I started my social work degrees. And from there it’s really sort of been no looking back. So I did my first degree in psychology and that took me like 15 years to do that degree. And then the social work took, took another 10, 12 years to do my bachelor’s, my master’s, and then my PhD. So in a nutshell, that’s sort of my story. Part of my, the impetus for me to go into University, was I, as a young adult I suddenly went, what’s going on here? Why was I placed in this family? And what, you know I had this narrative that, you know I had been rescued and saved from a horrible fate and I just wondered about that. Because there was something in me that just didn’t quite buy it. And I started meeting other adoptees. And you know I grew up without ever seeing other indigenous people and most of us did ‘cause we were sort of spirited off into very, these enclaves. We didn't encounter other indigenous people, our families didn’t have indigenous friends, we were part of a world that was, you know, generally quite privileged. Some of them.

Haley - Can you do a little teaching for us now. So we talk all the time about the Baby Scoop Era, and we’ve read the girls who went away, most of my listeners have, but you’re, we’re in Canada. And you are talking about the Sixties Scoop, which is what this time period has been named. And can you just give us a little snippet of what that means? ‘Cause you said you were kind of, all whisked away and you, I know that there was lots of indigenous people even placed in the U.S. Just, anyway, I’ll let you take that.

Raven - So most people know about the residential school system in Canada and the States. And, you know, in the 40s and 50s, the residential school system, I mean there were 150,000 indigenous children that went through that system and it was, you know, it was supported by the legal system. So people were compelled to send their children to those schools. And the purpose of the schools was to assimilate indigenous children. It was to alter our culture and to assimilate children into the Canadian body politic. Because you know, the early sort of the devisors of the program thought that the best way to deal with the Indian problem, was to assimilate us. And to, you know, as indigenous, our political leaders at that time, even were pretty astute and they recognized that really what it was about is the government sort of offloading their nation to nation agreements with us. That existed in the form of treaties. And we signed those treaties and said, we’ll live on these plots of land, and we’ll share the resources that come out of the rest of the territory. And that never really happened. So the view was that this would be sort of, the ultimate solution. We know that it didn’t work because you can’t assimilate a people that also live, in a system where there’s also a reserve system, a reservation system. And so those reserves have really served to hold or maintain that difference or that sort of cultural separateness or cultural uniqueness. But anyway, the residential school started to decline. They ran from about 1840s to the 19 – the last one closed in 1996. But they really began to fall into disrepair in the 50s. And at that time, in Canada, the federal government and the provincial governments were negotiating jurisdiction. And so child welfare was one of those areas where in the late 50s and early 60s, the provinces started to take over child and family services, you know, child welfare, family welfare and health education and those sorts of things. And you know, it’s sort of interesting ‘cause when you look at it historically, it’s not really written anywhere, I’m in the process of doing that now. But what happened as the residential schools declined, and the government started to infuse money into provincial social services, we see coincidentally, or not, a massive exponential increase in the number of indigenous children coming into care. And you know, when I sort of look at the big picture I think that, I mean the system is really built upon the backs of indigenous children and families. Because our children make up about, I’d say on average, 60% of all the children in care. And in some provinces it’s moving up to 90%. So in Saskatchewan, you know, of all the children who are in care, 80 – 90% are indigenous children. So that’s –

Haley - That’s shocking.

Raven - It is, yes, it’s really become an economic system. And that’s why it’s so difficult to change. But the Canada Assistance Program in the mid 60s, infused money into the provinces to take over child welfare and social services. And you know, at the same time we had these schools of social work putting out brand new social work programs and hence social workers out into the field who needed jobs and then we see all these kids coming into care. Now, I am a social worker and a social work educator and so I understand that child welfare serves a really important purpose. When it’s necessary. But when we look at indigenous children and the incredible numbers that were taken into care and in many instances how they were taken into care, and I say care in quotation marks, it’s really questionable and problematic because the numbers were so disproportionate. And in many instances the social workers would go on to reserves and just scoop up any kids they could find. In one community in B.C., a social worker chartered a bus on a weekend and apprehended 38 children. And in that community, they lost 100 children. And the community only had 300 band members. And so they lost, and in a number of communities across the country, they lost almost every children who was born in 1970-72. And then being placed in generally non indigenous homes. And then some were placed in homes and the people would move overseas. My family thought that I was still in Germany when we grew up. But there were also agreements made with agencies in the States, particularly in the Midwest States. And you know, what we’re discovering is a lot of kids were placed into farm homes, where they basically became farm laborers. So it wasn’t really a home at all, they were forced laborers. So they were fed, clothes, you know some lived in damp or flooded basements. And they, that’s all they did was they worked all day, didn’t even go to school. And so that’s kind of a questionable situation. And those agencies in Canada were receiving funds from those agencies in the states, for each child that was sent. So there was some financial incentive there.

Haley - So what, was there any intention of reunification with the families? Or it was just, scooped and gone?

Raven - Yeah, adoption does not have the intention of reunification. So between 1951 and 1991, there were about 22,400 status Indian children and Inuit children who were scooped and placed into nonindigenous adoptive and foster homes. If we include the Metis, Metis children, then I think the number is probably pushing 40-50,000. And it was interesting because I worked in adoptions and so what I know from that is, like I’m status Cree, but I was listed in, all of me and my siblings, and there’s a bunch of us, were were listed as Metis. And when I was talking to some of my colleagues in the department, they said well yeah, there was a tendency to want to have the children sort of written as less indigenous. ‘Cause then they were more adoptable. And so that’s one of the issues with Metis children and those survivors is that many of them were not recorded as Metis. ‘Cause if they were fair, it was easier to places them if they were presented as a white child. You know, that’s not the fault of adoptive parents, people want children who are going to sort of, pass on their legacy and that sort of thing. But it’s one of the reasons, I mean, so there’s this class action lawsuit that has, recently we’ve been victorious. And so Marcia Brown initiated a lawsuit back in 2004 and it took 13 years to get to the federal court where the judge sided with her and said yes, the federal government was responsible to ensure that there was no loss of culture. Because they’d breached that duty, yes, you win. And Marcia Brown turned, this was just an Ontario class action case. She turned around and said, the government approached her and said, we’re willing to settle. And she said okay I’ll settle, but you need to make this a national settlement and I want a healing foundation and I want you to include all survivors and they said yes to everything except they said we will not include the Metis and non-status Indians. And you know, lots of people are really angry about this in particular, Metis survivors. And one of the reasons that, what I believe happened is that it really has to do with the fact that, for status children, myself included, we were recorded through Indian affairs. Our information, our files were sent to Indian affairs, they kept a record. So it’s easy for them to make those determinations on who is part of the class. But for Metis children, many of them were not recorded, and so the paperwork is gonna be a bit of a nightmare. And it’s gonna take a bit of time for them to sort out how to determine who’s eligible and who’s not. Yeah, so I think you know, that sort of in a nutshell, I mean, we’ve come from this time in the early 50s, this transition from residential schools to the Scoop, and you know, that whole adoption process is really about, it furthers that agenda of assimilating us. And you know, for many of us it worked. In a way it worked because many of us, we have this world view that’s very non indigenous.

Haley - Can I stop you and go back to your personal story? So you’re, you said you were in therapy and you had a number of years taking classes here and there, and you worked your way, all the way up to a PhD in social work. At what point were you like, rediscovering, oh, I am an indigenous person, and I do have these lost connections. When did that come into focus for you?

Raven - Well that happens for all of us, right? And it’s a normal, I think for adoptees in general, it’s just becomes part of our search for self. Part of our maturing as human beings is we want to know who we’re connected to. We want to know where we come from, ideally we wanna be able to see people who look like us, who have our little idiosyncrasies. And so it’s sort of the natural part of being an adoptee. I mean it’s, there are the exceptions out there, people who are indigenous and non-adoptees, who are like, this is my family now, and I’m happy. And more power to them. They had a great experience, excellent, that’s what the system’s about, right? But for me what happened was, so I was functioning fairly well, you know I was going to university, I was working for immigration in the summers and I had a friend there and I went in one day and we were having coffee together. And I said, oh I had this really interesting dream. And you know, the dream was I was in this black hole and I couldn’t get out and I could see the top, the light at the top but I couldn’t get out. And she said oh, Raven, you need therapy. So she handed me the number of her therapist. And she was an amazing gestalt therapist in Toronto and I worked with her for a couple of years. And that was really sort of the start of it. And then a few months later, the same friend handed me this little piece of paper and said, you know you really shouldn’t be working here. Go work here and it was an advertisement for like a secretary or administrative assistant at the Toronto office of the Treaty 9 organization, the organization that represents Crees and Ojibwes in Ontario. And their head office was in Toronto. And so I applied and I got one of the jobs. And for the first time I was surrounded by indigenous people. And working in an indigenous organization, learning, you know, going to ceremonies, going to sweats, traveling to different communities. And I mean, that was a huge eye opener. And the spiritual piece was really, really an important element to that.

Haley - ‘Cause you’re adoptive father, you said he was a minister at one point in the United Church? So did you have that religious piece to your childhood as well?

Raven - My father was a really good guy. He was a busy professor and eventually when my parents separated when I was a teenager, he became, he re-parented me, I stayed with him and he really became my best friend and taught me a lot about life. But the United Church is sort of interesting because it’s pretty progressive. And kind of leftist in a way. Social justice oriented. And so yeah, we went to church a lot, we did our, sort of our social milieu was the United church. But when I got to be 14, 15, and 16, and I started to question, I said to my dad, I don’t think I wanna go to church anymore. And he was kinda sad and he said, I’m kinda sad about that, but you know you have to make your own decisions. So you know, if that’s what you wanna do, I’ll support that. A part of that was that I just had an inkling that it wasn’t really for me. I liked sort of the basic tenets of Christianity, of the United Church in particular, the Protestant faith. But I’d also had a lot of spiritual experiences in my life. And when I tried to share these with my dad, he was kind of the only one I really talked to, his interpretation was very western. And I started having these experiences where I would hear women talking to me in Cree, and he thought I, he said oh, I think you’re developing schizophrenia. Now when I was older and reculturating, so making contacts, spending time with elders, going into communities and that sort of thing, I had a chance to meet a really beautiful elder from northern Ontario. And I told her about this experience, this dream, these dreams that I was having and these voices I was hearing. And she said, well you were receiving teachings that women are supposed to receive at that sort of time in life. And so, you know, the ancestors were coming to you. And I said I had always sort of known that. And I got those teachings at that time with her, but you know, it really highlighted the differences in culture and just ways of sort of viewing the world. Even though I had been raised in this very white, upper middle class, Anglo Saxon Protestant context, it couldn’t stop the fact that I was an indigenous person and that I had all these experiences. And I had this way of understanding the world that no one else around me could, I didn’t really share it with people because they didn’t get it. So you know I went to summer camp every year and when I got older I became a counselor in training and then a camp counselor. I always took those opportunities to really spend time on the land by myself. I would always find a spot and that’s where I would retreat to. And just really feel the energy and I mean, that’s, that connection to the land. I didn’t like to share it with people because they would just sort of, they would frame it in that sort of romantic Indian image. Oh yes, your people are so connected to the land, right? I didn’t want to hear those sorts of things. ‘Cause that’s too simplistic, that’s just too simplistic in understanding. You know, that was 30 years ago. Now that I’m much older, I understand that fundamental teachings in any religion are the same. And they’re very much aligned with indigenous knowledge, our prelaws, we call them creator’s laws. And yeah, there’s no conflicts there at all. And so I don’t have any issues with anybody’s religious or spiritual beliefs, because I think at their essence, they're pretty much the same. I mean, now what we do with those teachings as human beings is another matter. Topic for another podcast.

Haley - Yes. So you had these experiences then, when you were working in this office with other indigenous people and you were able to experience things that you, you likely didn’t even when you were, ‘cause you were so tiny when you were apprehended.

Raven - Well I have to tell you a story about working in that office.

Haley - Okay.

Raven - So in 1985 they changed the Indian Act and put in this bill, C-31 which allowed indigenous people who had lost their status because of the Indian Act itself, to reclaim status. And I had grown up thinking that I was a Metis, French Metis. And so one of my colleagues, a Metis researcher came to me and said, have you applied for your status? And I said, well I’m Metis. And she said, no you’re not, look in the mirror.

Haley - Oh!

Raven - She said, you’re definitely not. And she said, put in your application, so I did. And then she said, have you reconnected with your family? And I said, no, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. And she said, well you’re a Sinclair for God’ sakes, send a letter to Jim Sinclair, he was the president of the Saskatchewan non status and Metis of Saskatchewan. So I did and yeah, within, like, 11 days, I found my family. And discovered that I was not French Metis, I was Cree. Scottish Cree and Scottish.

Haley - Wow, and so you’ve changed your name then.

Raven - Yes. I returned to my birth name. ‘Cause I was raised with a very a WASP name that shall not be repeated.

Haley - Okay. Can you tell me about where you were in your, you were saying reculturating. Where you were in that when you reconnected with your family?

Raven - In the early stages. So you know, it was in my early 20s when I started to work for Nishnawbe Aski nation in Toronto and then found my family couple years later. And then came out to Saskatoon to visit and then went back home and I, you know I didn’t really understand about attachment. ‘Cause I grew up really attachment disordered. I was not able to attach for the most, for the bulk of my adult life, it’s only the last few years I’ve really been able to reattach to other people. But even then you know, our deep, sort of yearnings still are in operation and so I really wanted to be with my family. And I knew that it wouldn’t be all roses and sunshine but I had to, I had to move back out. So I moved back out to Saskatoon when I was 27 in 1988. And basically stayed here, I had a brief stint in Alberta in 1990-91 but, basically have been here ever since. And it’s been a 30 year journey, reattaching to my siblings. Both my parents are now deceased, but I had a chance to spend a decade getting to know my mom a little bit. And she was really damaged by the residential schools. You know, sort of almost permanently harmed. But my siblings you know, we had our ups and downs, lots of downs, dealing with intergenerational issues, but we’re at this point now where it’s like, I have siblings. And they love me unconditionally. And I love them unconditionally. And it’s an amazing thing for an adoptee to have that, to have that again. And unfortunately ‘cause I also have my adoptive family, and I’m not that close with them, but I love them. And they play a really important role in my life. They’re important to me.

Haley - Wow, thank you for sharing some of your personal journey. I know you’re an academic and you’ve written a ton of papers and do a lot of research. And I want to get to that as well. But it was nice to really have that insight into you. Can you tell us now, you are an executive advisor to that Sixties Scoop healing foundation, that you were mentioning as a result of the class action lawsuit. And you also wrote to me in your guest forum here, that there’s some things that indigenous adoptees in the US need to know and probably in Canada as well if they’re not already aware of. What needs to happen next for them to make a claim?

Raven - Yes, the class action suit, well. It’s such an interesting one. What it’s done is, there’s 850 million and 750 million is in direct compensation. 15 million is for the healing foundation, the initial infusion of funds. And then 75 million for the legal fees. So I guess the first thing that survivors need to know, and Canada, the States, anywhere around the world, is that you don’t need a lawyer. All you need to do is you need to go to SixtiesScoopSettlement.info. That is the class action administrator’s website. And that, or you can, the administrator, they’re called Collectiva. And Collectiva, they handle all kinds of settlements for different class action groups. But on there, it says Sixties Scoop so you can click on that link and there’s a page that comes up and it has the latest updates right there on the page and then at the top, there’s a number of different links and one of them is claim forms. So you click on the claim form and just you fill out what you know, what you have. And you know, make sure to let them know if you change your address and give them your, update your, make sure your contact information is updated. But you don’t need any of your child welfare records. So the criteria for members is that you have to have been removed and made a crown ward or a permanent ward between 1951 and 1991. And placed in a non-indigenous home. So there are kids were placed into indigenous homes. And they wouldn’t be eligible. So you have to have your status. And so if you have some doubt about whether you have status or not, then all you have to do is go to, you know you can type into Google, Indian Affairs Canada, Indian status application. And it will take you right to the status form and then you fill that out and submit it. And then still go ahead and submit your claim form to Collectiva. Because you know, there’s people there that are gonna be working to make the determinations on eligibility and so you know, if you know you’re a band member but you don’t have your actual number or your card, then you know, submit that form to Indian Affairs and in the meantime, submit your claim form and then once it’s updated you know, send Collectiva a quick email and let them know, oh here’s my status number. They have all the records and so that’s one of the advantages is that you fill out this claim form to the best of your ability, put in as much information as you can remember and for the most part it’ll be fairly easy for them to cross reference that with the information that they have ‘cause they have those records of status and Inuit children who were removed. And doesn’t matter where they were removed to. So you don’t need a lawyer, all you need to do is fill out that claim form. You don’t need your child welfare records. And you either have to have your treaty status number or be eligible for it and fill out that form. You have until August 31 of 2019 to fill out that form and submit it. So you can print it out and mail it or you can do it online and then hit the submit button and then wait for the confirmation number and then just take a picture of that or a screenshot or you know, keep, record that number so that you have your confirmation number. And then the government has to make the determination on each application. And we will be, we will receive payment next January, February.

Haley - Thank you for that info, I’m sure it’s gonna be helpful for a lot of people and I look forward to seeing what happens with the Sixties Scoop healing foundation and I’m curiously watching, what’s gonna happen with that. So it’s great that you’re working with them.

Raven - One of the things we’re gonna be doing initially is, because the foundation is supposed to be run by survivors, we’re gonna be engaging in a national consultation across the country to ask survivors, who do you want to run this foundation, how do you want it to run, what programs and services to you want it to offer and then from there, they will sort of build the foundation. So it’s quite an exciting process.

Haley - Yeah, I was reading about it on the website, it looks really interesting. I’ll have links to all of these things that Dr. Sinclair is mentioning in the show notes. So if you didn’t get a chance to write it down, don’t worry, go to the show notes and there’ll be links for all those things. And before we do recommended resources, we’re gonna talk about some of your work and your film in that time, is there anything that you just wanna tells us as listeners, just about the current state of foster care and the, in Canada specifically, as an outsider looking in. You were telling us the stats, between 60 to 90% of kids in care are indigenous and you know, are kids still being taken from families just because they’re indigenous? Is there still, in my show we talk a lot about family preservation and just the critical need for that. And there’s mothers in crisis all the time, just financial crisis or they lack social supports who will be coerced into placing their infants for adoption. Can you talk about that for, in Canada, with the government system and what that looks like right now? And things that we need to know so we can be advocating for kids to stay with their families?

Raven - Yes, and I could talk about this for a long time, so I’ll try to be as succinct as possible. So yeah, I mean, we still have an incredible overrepresentation of indigenous children in care. And like for example, in Manitoba, they're apprehending almost daily an indigenous child. And the way that the system is set up right now, it’s really set up to disadvantage indigenous children and families. So when I look at the, for example, the risk assessment model they use in Ontario, you know, someone could come and take my child. Because some of the risks are, are you an intergenerational residential school survivor? Are you a survivor of the child welfare system? And, have you ever had substance or drug abuse issues? I could check off every single one of those. And I'm a risk factor for parenting my daughter who’s about to turn 14. It’s like, what’s so interesting because you know, it doesn’t ask in there if you’ve got a PhD. If you’re an educator, if you’re published, if you’re, you know, a national representative. But in terms of the risk factors, yeah. So what that does, it provides the justification for basically removal for any minor reason. What happens is then, our children go into foster care. And once they’re in foster care, we’re at a terrible risk of losing them because if a foster family has had a child for you know, 8 months or a year, and they decide they wanna keep that child, then foster care is an option. And you know, I’ve talked to social recruits who tell me that, there are foster care workers who are telling them, if you wanna have a child, don’t go through the adoption, it’ll take too long. Go through the foster care system. ‘Cause once you have a child for a period of time, you’ll be able to keep them. So what’s happened across the country, is agencies have implemented policies that if a foster family refuses to return a child, and they wanna seek permanency, then they’re giving them they’re day in court. And once it gets to court, we almost invariably lose because of a supreme court case in 1983 called Racine and Woods. And in this case what happened was, the mother had placed her child with friends. And when she went back a year later to retrieve her child, they said no. So she took them to curt and she lost and she appealed. And at the appeal court she won and the judge said, yes, this child should be with the mother. And so the foster family took it to the supreme court. 7 years later, now the child’s been in care with this foster family, you know she’s like, 9, 10. And the judge said you know, now she’s too attached to this family. And so we can’t disrupt the bonding and attachment, that would be just harmful. And not only that, but the whole cultural piece surrounding an indigenous child, well that just gets, that’s not important. It gets less imp the longer a child is with a family. Now as a researcher and a survivor, I know that both of those things are absolutely not true. Even for indigenous adoptees who are adopted at birth, many of them never attach to their adoptive families. Because of the difference, that sort of, that almost sort of institutionalized difference that’s created through the adoption mechanism itself but also through the visual and identity issues. And also of all the adoptees I know, like 98% have reculturated, they have gone back to family, community, culture. And that happens anywhere from you know, late teens to 30s, usually it’s in late 20s, 30s, and even some 40s and 50s. but almost everybody goes back. So this supreme court case, the provincial courts are relying on to keep our children with foster families, is fundamentally flawed. But because lower courts are bound by supreme court decisions, they basically only have to make reference to this case of Racine and Woods, and the judge, the presiding judge will go, yeah, yeah. This child’s attached to his foster family and so you know, we’ll make sure that they go to cultural events once a year and everything will be well. And it’s like, no no no, this class action case should provide ample warning that not all is well. And it will not be well. It will not.

Haley - Oh my goodness. It is shocking.

Raven - Yeah, the same thing’s happening and you know as an academic, one of the things I’m doing is working with lawyers and being called upon to be an expert witness and to provide written submissions where I challenge some of these arguments, particularly this one, Racine and Woods. And you know we’re having, it’s having an impact. It’s slow but the more cases we win, the more the precedent is set that we’ll challenge that particular case. And then people won’t just assume that you know, if you put a child in a family that they’re gonna attach to them and everything’s gonna be hunky dory down the road. It doesn’t work that way.

Haley - Thank you for your insights on that. That is fascinating and so sad that you know, that one case can, I mean it does it impacts so many families. And yeah, okay, again, I could go on about that. I wanted to do recommended resources with you. Now as I said before, Dr. Sinclair is a writer, an academic, researcher and she also has a film called Trouble in the Garden. And from what I understand you’re screening it this year, 2019, and I watched the trailer, again. And it’s so, oh my goodness. You have to go watch the trailer. I’ll link to it in the show notes. So there is an indigenous girl who is adopted into a white family. And at one point in the trailer, the brother says, before my parents rescued her. And isn’t that the traditional like, white savior-ism narrative? But can you tell us a little bit about the film, Dr. Sinclair?

Raven - Sure. Yeah, so I got a cold call one day from this woman called Roz Owen. And she’s the director of the film. And she said, you know I’m making this film and I’ve got the script, and I’m ready, just about finished writing the script. And wanted to talk to you about it. So we had a really great conversation. And one of the things that sort of really solidified us working together was she said, you know, I wanna do this film and base it upon sort of the theme or the approach that was taken in this, she said, you won’t know what the title is, but it’s this Swedish film that was really hard hitting and I said, I think I know what film you're talking about. And she told me the title, it’s called The Celebration. And it’s a subtitled Swedish film that was done in the 1990s. And it was, I said, oh my god, that’s one of my all time favorite films. And anyway, so I said, you know, why don’t you send me the script and I’ll take a look at it. And so I, you know, it was like reading a good novel, I couldn’t put it down. But I could also see where, as a non-indigenous person, there were some problems with it. There were some problems with the script, some problems with the scenes and so I called Roz and said, would you be willing to have, for me to edit this script? And provide some suggestions and she was like, absolutely. And so I just, I went over, we went over word for word over months. Yeah, and she was just so open to my involvement. Like some of the dialogue is mine. And some of the scenes are mine. And that was just so wonderful. And at point at the end there, she said, you know, I’m gonna make you an executive producer because of your work on it. And I was like, yay. Didn't know what that means, but I like it.

Haley - It looks very important, I love it. Yeah, so it’s gonna be screening in 2019, I know you’ve already had at least one or more, I think by the time this airs, you’ll have had a couple more.

Raven - It’s, it was across the country, actually. And then Toronto and Edmonton I think last week. It’s gonna be in Regina this, on the first at the Rainbow and then on the 8th in Saskatoon, Roz is gonna come in and we’re doing, we’ll do a screening and then a Q & A and a panel.

Haley - Oh. Fantastic.Okay, so I definitely want people to put that on their radar, and check it out if it comes near you and then in the future when it’s streaming. And also, I’m gonna link to some of the articles that Dr. Sinclair has written. You know, I really think that people need to educate themselves about the Sixties Scoop. And Dr. Sinclair sent me website that has a whole ton of resources that talk all about the Sixties Scoop. Especially if you’re Canadian, you really need to know more about what’s happened here and what’s happening with the class action victory and all of those things. So you absolutely need to familiarize yourself with those things. It’s critical for us to know and especially as adoptees, to know what our fellow indigenous adoptees have gone through. Dr. Sinclair, what did you want to recommend to us today?

Raven - Well I would really like people to see the film. So you know, if you see it kind of in your area, then check it out. You know, we’re still in the marketing part of it, and so you know, I’m hoping that even maybe Netflix will pick it up. It’s getting really good reviews. It’s really insightful, I think that all adoptees will appreciate it because you know, there’s common themes whether you’re an inracial or transracial adoptee. Same race or transracial adoptee. You sort of understand lots of the same issues of dislocation and identity and all of those sorts of things. But I think it’s well done and it’s not soap box-y. And it’s not, it’s not like sort of a happily ever after, it’s a little bit hard hitting. But realistic, and also I think you know, it’s really important that it shows that for adoptive families and parents in particular, many of them had a really great intentions and things didn’t go well for them either. And so that’s an important, I think, perspective to have. So I think it’s a really good educational piece. And I really, I like it, and it’s getting good reviews, so check it out!

Haley - Fantastic.

Raven - So another resource that I would recommend is the National Indigenous Survivors of Child Welfare Network. And the executive director there is and founder is Colleen Cardinal. Colleen is quite the character, she’s a real strong advocate for survivors. She has sort of single handedly created this organization to represent and support indigenous adoptees and foster survivors from across the country. And she’s put on 4 gatherings. And so the 5th one’s going to be this August in Ontario and you know, she’s even managed to get the funding to fly people in, and bring in cultural teachings and activities. And just entertainment and the opportunity for people to get together with other survivors for some, has just been really profound. And yeah, she’s got her finger in all sorts of pies. We’re working together right now to create an online platform, a geographical information systems platform, to connect adoptees and it’s interactive so you’ll be able to go to this website, basically see a map of the world, and see where adoptees in Canada, indigenous adoptees have been dispersed to, around the world. And read their stories, and watch videos, little video clips of their stories and read their poetry and their artwork and that sort of thing. So yeah, she’s a mover and a shaker, that girl. So it’s the National Indigenous Survivors of Child Welfare Network and she also just recently wrote a book, by Fernwood Press and it’s called, it’s a Cree word, but then the subtitle or the translation is, Raised Somewhere Else. So there’s another source for people to check out.

Haley - Absolutely, I’ll link to all of those things. Thank you, thank you so much for your time and sharing your story with us and your expertise. Where can we connect with you online?

Raven - If you google me, you can find my numbers, my contact information. I can be reached at the University of Regina, yeah, I’m pretty easy to reach.

Haley - Perfect.

Raven - I’m on social media, I’m on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, just message me.

Haley - Alright, I will put links to all of those in the show notes. Thanks so much Dr. Sinclair.

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Haley - In the upcoming weeks we will be hearing from other Sixties Scoop survivors and we’ll be also doing some Healing Series episodes, so that’s some of what you can look forward to in the next couple of months. I also wanna let you know that I have a, almost monthly newsletter and I’m getting ready to send that out. If you would like to stay connected with me and read some of my, I don’t know, essays, sorta. If I had a blog, these are some of the things I would post on it. But this is a little more private, just between me and my newsletter subscribers. So if you wanna sign up for that, go to AdopteesOn.com/newsletter. I’d love to keep in touch with you that way. I also just wanna say a big thank you again to my monthly Patreon supporters. Thank you so much for partnering with me, I wouldn’t be able to do the podcast without you. If you wanna be a partner and share Adoptees On with more adopted people around the world, go to AdopteesOn.com/partner. Thanks so much for listening, let’s talk again next Friday.

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