Aanii Christine nitiishinikaas. Peguis nitoonci. Mashkedebejiki ni totem. (Hello, my name is Christine Miskonoodinkwe Smith. I am from Peguis First Nation and Buffalo is my clan). My Anishnaabe name is Miskonoodinkwe (Red Wind Woman), which I came into later in life when I returned to the teachings and language of my culture.
I am a Sixties Scoop survivor, a Bill C-31 status Anishnaabe woman and a daughter of a Saulteaux mother and a Cree father. I was born in Winnipeg more than 40 years ago. Unfortunately, my parents separated while my mother was pregnant with me. This period of time was difficult for ni mama (my mother). As a result, child welfare officials from the city stepped in and took me and three other siblings away from her. When I was 3 years old, my sister and I were adopted together into an affluent Caucasian family and brought to live in Ontario.
My childhood was not happy. In fact, it was rather traumatic and has left searing emotional scars on me to this day. My adoptive home was fraught with many emotional, physical, mental and spiritual abuses. In this adoptive home, I was treated like a prisoner. My freedom was being able to attend school. But at home, I was locked in my bedroom with bolts on the door and an alarm. If the alarm went off, I received beatings. I went hungry often because I was not allowed to eat many foods – perhaps one of the reasons I developed a serious eating disorder that was with me into my twenties.
My adoptive parents, under the guise of saying I would be going to a boarding school, dropped me off at a home for troubled kids when I was just 10 years old. After a few visits, I was made to believe that I would be heading back home for a visit. Instead, I was given notice that I would not be returning home, and in fact was returned to care under the Roman Catholic Children’s Aid Society. Knowing that my adoptive parents didn’t want me left me beyond scarred even though they were abusive toward me. I often felt that because they didn’t want me, no one would ever want me, let alone love me. I was devastated.
I still remember the day I was sitting in the courtroom and hearing my then adoptive father state to the judge, “We do not want Christine anymore. We give her up to the Children’s Aid Society.” At the same time, they effectively cut me off from my only friend and ally, my sister, who was only 10 months older than me. She continued to live with them.
I stayed in a group home in Ontario for a year and then moved through three foster homes in the next seven years. As I got older, I was supposed to transition out of the care of the Children’s Aid Society to living independently. But I was kicked out of their care well before I was able to receive treatment for my ongoing anorexia, depression and multiple suicide attempts.
At that time, I reunited with my birth sister and the adoptive father who had given me up. The relationship with my adoptive father was difficult to say the least and contributed to my ongoing health difficulties.
I also regained my Indian status. It seems kind of funny to me now but I did not regain my Indian status on my own. I regained my status upon the advice of my family doctor when she realized that I could not afford to pay for my anti-depressant medications. Even though I knew I was a status Indian, I really did not understand what “being status” really meant because no one in my life had ever talked to me about my heritage.
I grew up knowing I was different but did not come into my culture until I moved to Toronto. I was in my 20s when I finally was exposed to my culture, traditions and the ways of my people. I was finally surrounded by people who took an interest in showing me that it was okay to embrace my culture.
I began searching for my birth family and was fortunate to find my biological mother, who was living in Saskatchewan at the time. Finding her was a dream come true because all my life I had wondered who she was and what she looked like. Through a repatriation worker, my mom and I had a reunion in Winnipeg and I got to meet my uncles and aunt on her side of the family. Sadly, I found out that my biological father had been murdered in 1996. In the past couple of years, I have made contact with a half sister and brother from his side and have finally been given a picture of him.
In the years since moving to Toronto, I eventually learned that I had to cut any contact I had with my adoptive father and mother to keep myself in recovery. This decision, though difficult, also led me to seek victim’s compensation with the help of my psychiatrist and the Ontario Public Guardian and Trustee office. I had to testify in a hearing about what my adoptive parents did to me. I was successful in suing them but the money I received wasn’t that important (though it was helpful). Essentially, all I wanted was an apology from my adoptive parents for what they did to me. I never received that apology and I have had to live with knowing I will probably never hear one.
Acknowledgement of my history and my journey as an Anishnaabe kwe has been difficult. It does not come naturally or easily because of all the complexities it has attached to it. All the years of searching for myself and searching for my mother and the rest of my biological family has been tiring but also rewarding. It still makes me angry and divided in how I feel toward the Canadian government and its assimilationist policies toward my people and countless other Indigenous children.
The impact of the Sixties Scoop has made me question the concept of home and what it actually means. When I contemplate what home is, I think about my biological family and question the audacity of the Canadian government that took my siblings and I away from my mother. We were essentially kidnapped and taken to another province. It has taken me years and I’m still healing from the so-called family that adopted me and subsequently rejected me at the age of 10. Going through the foster care system and becoming a ward of the province is something no child should have to go through.
Where is home? I made Toronto my home after I moved here for treatment that literally spared me from an untimely death. But home is also where my birth mother lived, in Manitoba – I travelled back and forth and fought to establish a relationship with her because that is what I wanted the most. Holidays and birthdays are hard because I often feel like I’m the one who is lost from home – lost because I am now an orphan and have been since my mother died two and a half years ago. I can no longer reach out to her and our time was cut short. She grounded me because I could finally say, “I have a mom.” I can’t say that anymore and that hurts me to the core. It’s a pain that never goes away.
Others have stepped in to help me to establish a home. I thank the Toronto Indigenous community; I thank First Nations House at the University of Toronto and the other individuals I’ve met while I was fortunate to get both an undergraduate and Master’s degree at the University of Toronto.
What is home? Where is home? These are questions that often leave me reeling and wondering if I will ever feel at home spiritually and emotionally. Canada, you have made me and countless other Indigenous children and adults feel lost. There’s a physicality to what home is. Canada and its assimilationist policies took that away from me and that is not something so easy to just get over.
To learn about the history and contemporary consequences of Canadian residential schools, click here.