Indigenous children taken from their families in often questionable apprehensions and placed in the foster system, are the survivors of a particularly dark portion of Canadian history called the '60s scoop.
Provincial governments routinely placed these children in non-Indigenous homes with little regard for cultural teachings. This loss of identity, and often loss of close family, affects survivors like Dolores Templeton today.
“I want everybody to know out there that the '60s scoop was real, and it still affects a lot of people,” Templeton said. “Especially around here, it seems to me no one wants to come out and talk about it so I took it upon myself to do this.”
For Templeton, the '60s scoop left some very real damage which she still deals with to this day.
At the age of two, she and her two brothers were taken from her family in Cumberland House. According to the file she obtained from social services, she was taken into the foster care system in 1962.
She was never adopted into a home while she was in foster care, meaning she spent 14 years in a revolving door of families and care-givers. Templeton thinks she was never adopted by a family because her mother originally asked to have all three of the siblings adopted together.
Templeton feels there may have been another reason.
“We were too dark [skinned] to be taken in,” Templeton said. “I guess social services separated us and put my baby brother into a different home and my older brother and I were brought up together until I was 13.”
Templeton and her older brother were also separated because he had passed the age of 16, and the foster family who was taking care of them at the time were “scared” of him leaving her alone in the system.
She spent the first seven years of care with a family she identified with as her real parents.
“When we got taken away from there, I actually thought they were my parents,” Templeton said.
At the age of nine, she was taken from this family because they were unable to care for her or her brothers due to illness. The trio were taken to Prince Albert where they were placed into temporary care before entering in a new foster home.
“Apparently she wanted children,” Templeton said. “I read about it, and towards the end, she said she couldn’t handle a little squaw like me.”
An excerpt from the file Templeton has, states she was a “bad” child.
She was taken to a psychologist numerous times to figure out what was “wrong” with her. For a year, Templeton said she hardly spoke and “shut down,” because she was grieving the loss of her first foster family.
“The last time I went there, I remember I was sitting in a little office with a bunch of puzzles in front of me,” she said. “I could hear them talking, saying I wouldn’t amount to anything, I didn’t know anything, I was stupid.”
After hearing those harmful words, she wanted to prove the psychologist and child service worker wrong.
She completed every puzzle in front of her, and once the adults had come back they asked her “Why are you doing this to us, can’t you do something properly?”
Templeton was then put into the care of a family which she said was abusive, and spent many hours labouring in the fields.
“I remember picking rocks up and hauling bales, I think I was 10,” she said. “When they got up early in the morning, they made sure we got up by coming in the room and yelling at us to get up… we had to get up and go to work.”
She said she was forced to survive on two meals a day and the foster family would use willow branches to beat her after doing something wrong.
Between the ages of 12 and 16, Templeton said she was placed in eight different foster homes. She said because of this instability in her family life, she herself became unstable.
“I was a runner, I ran a lot,” Templeton said. “People always ask ‘well why do you run? Where are you going?’ and I look at them and think 'if you only knew why I run, and I run, maybe you’d understand'… I ran to get out of those situations hoping I’d be put somewhere else.”
She endured through years of drinking, which eventually turned into full-blown alcoholism and drug use. After checking herself into Alcoholics Anonymous, she started working towards addressing her addiction issues.
Over the years, Templeton says she has come to terms with her addiction. Today, she is a year-and-a-half sober. She said she attributes her sobriety to her husband, who encourages her to talk through her issues instead of turning to the bottle.
“We go walking, we go for drives, just something to get away from that,” she said.
Maintaining and rebuilding a connection to family and culture
Templeton feels as though she isn’t welcome in Cumberland House, only visiting a handful of times since she was taken into the system.
As many people taken in the 60s scoop, she lost her status rights. She was able to re-obtain her status 10 years ago after getting the appropriate signatures, and her aunt to confirm her identity.
But after growing up in care, she also feels out of place in non-Indigenous society leaving her caught between two worlds.
“Going to a white school, that’s all you heard was racism. People call you names, people call you down, even the kids,” Templeton said, her voice faintly shaking.
Templeton is trying to reconnect with her culture. She’s learning Swampy Cree through the Internet and Myrna Turner, an elder at the Muskoday Community School.
She said she’s attending as many powwows and round dances as she can to help reconnect with that side of her culture.
Templeton has maintained a relationship with the two brothers she was initially placed into care with.
She tried to reach out to her biological mother when she was 16-years-old. She felt as though her mother pushed her away maybe to try and forget their history, but did admit she tried to find her children in foster care multiple times.
Her mother passed away a few years ago.
“She told one of my brothers that she did love us, but she never ever told us that,” Templeton said. “There are three others after us, after we got taken away. I noticed that [their] birthdays are the same as the three of us so I was wondering, maybe she was trying to have more children to replace us, the ones she lost.”
Templeton said she’s very proud of the work her brothers are doing now. Her older brother is an artist now based out of Prince Albert, while her younger brother is a carpenter based out of Saskatoon.
Asking for an apology, not a hand-out
Through forgiveness, Templeton has been able to move on with her life.
“Deep down inside, I forgave. It’s the only thing to do in order to move on,” she said. “I forgave the people, what they did to us. People always ask me ‘how can you forgive someone that’s done all that to you?’ and I say 'you have to in order to move on.'”
She said she’s happy with where her life is at today. She’s worked from the age of 17, and also attended school. Today, she’s an administration assistant with the Muskoday First Nation Community School.
Templeton is part of legal action taken by Eleanor Sunchild, of Sunchild law in North Battleford, against the provincial government .
She said she’s not asking for any kind of hand-out from the government; she only wants an apology for what happened to her.
“I’m not looking for compensation or anything. I don’t care how much money you can give us, it’s not going to help,” she said. “All we want is an apology from Brad Wall, it’s all we want… there’s a lot of people out there saying ‘that’s all they want, more money,’ but I got news for them: it’s not. It’s more than money.”
A judge in Ontario recently sided with survivors of the '60s scoop, by saying the government had not taken reasonable steps to protect Indigenous children’s heritage in care. The government of Manitoba has publically apologized for their actions in the 1960s and 1970s.
Survivors in Saskatchewan are still awaiting an apology from the provincial government for their involvement in the scoop.
Templeton has a message for others in her position.
“Keep strong, keep your head up. Do what you have to do in order to heal. It’ll take a lot, but you know you can do it. You’ve come this far, and you have a long way to go yet, but just keep plugging along at whatever help you can get. Be strong, because we are survivors of this.”
On Twitter: @BryanEneas
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