Survivor Stories

Giiwe: This is Home.


Between 1965 and 1984, Canadian child protection workers removed more than 20,000 Indigenous children from their homes and placed them in foster care or put them up for adoption without the consent of their families or bands. 


Almost all of these children were placed with white, middle class families and were effectively stripped of their cultural identities. Many bounced from foster home to foster home, ran away and developed addictions in order to cope. Some of these children were treated like slave labour and/or experienced physical, sexual or emotional abuse. The majority developed emotional problems later in life and had difficulty developing a strong sense of identity in either the Euro-Canadian or their Indigenous cultures.

 We are in post-production phase of Giiwe: This is Home, a documentary about the 60's scoop survivor Brent Mitchell, who was removed from his home when he was just a year old and moved to New Zealand with his foster parents when he was five where he endured emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Brent Mitchell’s story clearly illustrates the complete lack of sensitivity, respect and consideration to aboriginal children to their culture and family.  

 In the summer of 2017, we spent a week in Manitoba with Brent and his wife, Yolanda after they traveled from New Zealand. During that time spent together, we witnessed the connection grow with Brent and his sister, Penny Carberry and brother, Ron Mitchell as well as with his identity and culture.


Giiwe: This is Home was produced, directed, filmed and edited by Merle Robillard and Andrew Lau with the support of Ryerson University's Chang School Film Hub. Featuring Brent Mitchell, Yolanda Julies, Penny Carberry, and Ron Mitchell. Music by Simon Poole.

Aug. 17, 2018, 9pm - Regina, Sask. Cineplex Odeon South




They often say that it’s in the best interest of the child to be taken away from their parents, but do they truly know the future and the impact on that child’s life, once they are taken and given away to a family that is not their own, by being biologically and culturally impaired.

I am a result of this cruel system, as many of our native children and babies are, I was given up for adoption and made crown ward at birth, an Ojibway kwe that never got to meet her mama because the system failed to do what was right and in the best interest of my life, they failed me and my mama because they gave me into the hands of a white family, and from then on they gave them the power to do what they liked, even if it meant to assimilate me by taking me to another country on the other side of the world.

As a teenager I once again became a part of the harsh system, lost in a world that was not my own, a family a culture that was not my own, but looking for love and acceptance that was never found, until the day, I stepped back into the country and to the family that was my own.

My question is, how do the judges and Cas workers sleep at night, once their duty is done, not knowing if this innocent child that was placed in their hands, would truly have a life that was better than the one with their biological family. My heart and my tears go out to the children that have no choice in the matter of where they go or to whom they go, all I can see is them growing up with confusion and not knowing their true identity that our culture provides for us to give us strength and love and wisdom and truth and honesty and humility.

Given in to the wrong hands they will know nothing of our proud culture but only pain and suffering of longing to know who they truly are, I count myself fortunate that I did have a happy ending, through all my tears and stubborness is the one thing that made me persevere to find my beloved family, even though my beloved mama has already past, but to me the most precious gift of all, was not me finding them, but them accepting me.


In the eyes of an innocent child there is no black or white, or in between,

Only that of what they see through their innocent eyes.

Their life is simple, so when as an adoptee did we come to realize we were different to the family we entered that was not our own. I don’t recall any certain time or place or incident, but could it be that somewhere in our minds we see things differently growing up.

Situations around us have changed, or feelings somewhere along the way have been exposed and we don’t understand what we are feeling or even what these feelings truly mean, but somewhere underneath the surface is something that has brought up these emotions to make us feel inferior to the things that were once a normal part of our life.

To somehow make our world crumble that we no longer want to be a part of what was, or what was meant to be. Underneath the smiles, the fun and laughter is a child who does not belong but how can they identify with what they want it so desparetely to be.

Could it be that beneath this growing child is the absence of a mothers nurturing touch, her voice and her scent, which while inside of her womb the fetus could embrace and feel the comforting rhythm of their maternal mothers heartbeat, when suddenly they enter into the world and no longer can they hear that comforting sound of love that carried them.

Somehow the loss of something so strong, and intimate would cause a psychological effect on this innocent child that was once the maternal love, has been replaced with a imitation love.

So somewhere between the lines of being wanted and loved is a lost child going through the motions of who they are adapting into a family that carries surface love, but not the true fulfilment of maternal love.  The child finds themselves walking in the shoes of a family that can show no identity to this child, and so this child is walking in a pair of shoes that doesn’t fit, neither match. Have you ever tried walking in a pair of shoes put on the wrong feet? It is really uncomfortable and awkward, and so it is to this child that is growing up into a family that is not genetically made to fit her personality, traits, and characteristics of someone who is supposed to have the same, finds they are in a world of misfit feelings and incomplete by chaos, because the footsteps that were supposed to guide them as one unit doesn’t fit, only as a counterfeit.

As the adoptee gets older and learns more about themselves in a world of chaos, it is up to them to try and find their true identity, with or without the support of the adoptive family, but in most cases it is the adoptee that struggles through their determination and desire to make this living chaos into a haven by seeking knowledge of where and whom they came from. For some this can take a short time, and for others it can take long, while others search without finding anything, due to restrictions on birth records, or possibly from being deceased.

It is then, that you must find your inner strength and beauty, and let the love of those that gave life to you, become your haven, by imagining yourself as a replica of them, by allowing yourself feel the nurturing touch of a mothers great love that she sacrificed to try and give you a better life, something that she could not provide for you, and take her unselfish love and bind that with the love you have for her, and let yourself be nurtured, knowing she did her best of what she could for you, and build on it, by being the person, you want to be, and how they would’ve wanted you to be.

Blood is thicker than water, and when you find yourself, only then can you be the replica of what they wanted you to be, as their little miracle.








By Christine Miskonoodinkwe-Smith

I took part in the third annual National Bi-Giwen Indigenous Survivors of Child Welfare Gathering  earlier this fall at Waupoos Farm in Ottawa.  It was an experience for me that I won’t forget because it allowed me to connect with at least 70 to 80 other survivors of the Sixties Scoop and Child Welfare System.

The Canadian state has long had an assimilation practice in which large numbers of First Nations children have been removed from their families and adopted into families of non-native parents. The highest peak of adoption occurred in the 60’s, which was known as the Sixties Scoop. The practice continued in a large degree into the 70’s and early 80’s. and was known as the Sixties Scoop. This practice led to intense identity consequences for those who became the “product” of interracial adoption, something the Canadian government did not consider.

Often when you are an adoptee or a survivor of the child welfare system, you feel alone. You feel this way because when you are taken away from family and community, you are lost to the traditions, languages and the community of your people. It is through gatherings such as the third annual National Bi-Giwen Indigenous Survivors of Child Welfare that you truly feel you belong and that you matter.


Often when you are an adoptee or a survivor of the child welfare system, you feel alone. You feel this way because when you are taken away from family and community, you are lost to the traditions, languages and the community of your people. It is through gatherings such as the third annual National Bi-Giwen Indigenous Survivors of Child Welfare that you truly feel you belong and that you matter.

There were workshops that we could choose to attend or not attend. The facilitators left it up to us to what we felt comfortable in attending. I attended the rattle making workshop, with Al Harrington, who hails from Shoal Lake ON, Ojibway Nation where I made my first ever rattle. I went to a feather bundle workshop with Dawn Setford, from an organization called Pass the Feather. The feather bundle workshop was the most incredible workshop because I learned about the different feathers I was working with, and made my first feather bundle, that now proudly sits in my living room, waiting for its first use.

There were a lot of firsts for me at this gathering. Another first was attending a Grief and Healing Circle with Dr. Raven Sinclair. In the Grief and Healing workshop, I shared my story for the first time. Sharing my story was important because I have kept it inside and there were aspects of it that I have never spoken of.  Things like, the abuse my biological mother suffered at the hands of my biological father, and how we were taken away. I told of how my biological father was murdered in 1990, and how I never got a chance to meet him. In fact, I only got to see his picture for the first time this past June. I spoke a little bit about the emotional, physical, and spiritual abuse I experienced at the hands of my adoptive parents. How that subsequently separated me from my sister for seven years when my adoptive parents put me back into the child welfare system at the age of ten because they decided they no longer wanted me. I literally poured my heart out and heard other people’s stories, too. They were like mine. I remember walking out of the Grief and Healing, feeling positive for the first time since I had walked onto the land of Waupoos Farm. The most beautiful parts of the Gathering were the friends I made, I felt like part of a huge family, and though I didn’t cry, I wanted to. At the end of the gathering we were all gifted beautiful blankets and blanketed.

It is gatherings like this, that help you to feel that, in the words of organizer Colleen Cardinal “I’m not the only one”.

Cleo Semaganis Nicotine

I just posted something that kind of got to me at a molecular level – the last recording of Amber Tucarro released by CBC. It stirred the core of me and something sleeping awoke. I voted, got rid of Stephen Harper, but really… lately… many things have brought MMIW, the 60s and 70s scoop and the disenfranchisement of my people to light.

My sister Cleo died in 1975. She was 11 years old, and was apprehended by the province of Saskatchewan and sent to Arkansas to a foster family where she was abused. I was sent somewhere in Saskatchewan to a non-native family. I was the youngest of seven, we were all separated and sent all over the United States and Canada through the AIM program – ADOPT INDIAN AND METIS!!! “You won’t have to pay for her education” is how my parents were sold. All of us apprehended because of our Mongolian Spot – a congenital birthmark that is essentially… “a blue bum”, a bruise on the buttocks that ranges in size from a spot to across the entire backside, and can last up to seven years or more. This is a trait of aboriginal people that has NOTHING to do with abuse, yet it was reason enough for the Government of Saskatchewan to apprehend me and my six older siblings into a system far from our culture and people. AIM was a program that sought to bring native children into non-native homes to be adopted and assimilated, despite the fact that extended family could’ve cared for us. This is government segregation and genocide at its’ very finest. It is what it is, and no best-of-intentions or goodwill can mask this second wave of forced trauma and assimilation of my people (the Residential School Experience was the first wave).

My sister Cleo was 11 years old and remembered where she lived and who loved her. Whatever happened to her in Arkansas to make her want to leave, it wasn’t good – she tried to hitchhike back to Little Pine, back home to the reserve, but was picked up, raped and murdered and left by the side of the road. She was sent so far, she only wanted to come home.   Her body remains in Arkansas to this day, while my brother and I try and write letters and make phone calls and try everything to get her body back to Canada.


Canada’s response? “She is no longer our responsibility because once she was sent to Arkansas she is their responsibility, not ours,” and they refuse to assist in any way. No adoption records, nothing, as if she was never even born and as if Saskatchewan would prefer to wipe her very existence off the face of this earth.

I remember.

In a silver frame, in an oval on my piano is a picture of my sister, very small. Maybe an inch and a half tall, and that is all that remains. Cleo Semaganis Nicotine, my oldest sister.

Sometimes I wake up and I think I’m still in a dream, sometimes that happens to all of us. But this is a dream I cannot wake up from. Wondering constantly, would she be helping me with my kids now? Would she braid my hair and have sisterly advice? All this is gone, all this pain is government regulated. Packaged, sent, discarded and forgotten.

“Forget about it.” “Get over it.”

I cannot and will never. So I heard Amber Tucarro’s voice, and wonder what my sister’s last days were like. And does she know how much she is loved and missed?

I will be talking a lot about MMIW and the 60s and 70s scoop. I will not get over it and that’s ok. But people need to stop with the attitude that it is something we can forget.This is my life. This is our lives. This is intergenerational trauma.

This is government-regulated abuse. The governments of both Canada and United States have repeatedly reminded me and my brother what value my sister Cleo has to them. None. “Not our responsibility, not our concern,” they pass the letters along and they have ignored us for forty years. They really hope I’ll just forget about it and give up one day.

No more. I shall speak until the right people listen.

This is MY life and you will continue to hear about it. The more I talk about it, the less it weighs me down – and I really would like to deal with it… so my kids won’t have to…


Additional note… This is a very strange and frustrating story, to have your family member stolen, murdered, THEN missing. I do not know her birthdate, I do not know her full name. I do not know her resting place, nor the exact date of her death. I do not know her adopted name, I do not know how she might’ve liked her eggs in the morning or what her favourite colour was, what she liked to sing but I DO know my kids would’ve loved their Aunt Cleo, I would’ve revelled in her presence, these people that look like me.

One by one, my family passes, four of us left now, but a promise is a promise.

Cleo has a spirit that is very much alive, she stares at me across time, asking to come home. Over and over again, I dream of her and try something new to find her grave. It may even be unmarked. Such mystery, such an impossible task to find her and bring her home, but still I have hope.

I have resiliency and faith. Prayer.

The Province of Saskatchewan’s Post Adoption Registry refuses to assist or even respond to my letters. Is there ANYONE on this planet who can help us?

Please. I cannot do this alone.

Help us find her.

Episode 1 is below. All 10 episodes of the CBC Podcast of Finding Cleo can be found HERE.



My name is Dianna, I was born on December 11th, 1971 to an Agnes George from Big Island First Nation. I am the youngest of her twelve children. Before I turned a year old my mother died in a vehicle accident, soon after all twelve kids were put in care, the five youngest children were put up for adoption.

I went to a non- native family in Haileybury, Ontario. It wasn’t the best household to live in, yes there is some good memories but the bad ones are very overwhelming and out weigh the good. My adoptive parents should never have been parents especially the mother. The mental and sometimes physical abuse took its tole on me. Before I turned thirteen I had attempted suicide four times, my first suicide thought was at the age of eight. I had racism from school, either from teachers or fellow classmates and neighbor hood kids. I hated school back then, especially from gr. 1 to gr 8. History class was the worst especially when we talked about the “indians” in class.

From School and home life I didn’t like being native at all, the hatred and disgust i felt, I literally wanted to be white but that wasn’t possible. All the anger in me came to a boiling point and I tried to kill both of my parents just to get away from it all. I spent three months in a youth dentition center in Georgia U.S.A., then from there went to a place for troubled kids in Oakville, then to Sudbury (a hospital and then a group home). I ran away from the group home in Sudbury after being raped and soon traveled with a carnival for the summer ending up in Toronto living on the streets for a few months. I ended up getting arrested for selling weed to an undercover cop. He convinced me to go back home and I listened the physical abuse stopped but the mental was still there. I guess you can say I just grinned and bared it.


Soon I became a mom at 20 and I decided to apply for my status card. When I did that, I received info on my band, I called and talked to the secretary at the Big Island band office, and told her who I was and what I knew. “I was adopted, I am the youngest of twelve kids, my birth mom died in a car accident. Do you know any of my siblings”? within the hour I had three phone calls from siblings, by the end of the day I was talking to my birth dad. I did visit them and it was unbelievable. I finally felt this is where I belong. I met seven of my siblings and some my dads side of his family. I had a lot of questions and no answers, no one really shared anything about my mom, just how she died, that’s it. It was like this for very many years. I remember when my birth father died, I was called stupid by a few elders because I couldn’t speak or understand our language and at that point I felt I didn’t belong anywhere. It was kind of like feeling in limbo. I dislike this feeling, sometimes I still do.

I do have relationships with some siblings, we talk to each other and visit. I haven’t met all my nieces and nephews but have close relationships with some, I don’t know many of my cousins but I am starting to know my moms side, and I am hearing stories about her through a few of my aunties which makes me smile but I wish I had a picture of her though. I asked one of my aunties why they let me get adopted, her reply was we didn’t know you guys were, we knew you were in care. They were told that they would be informed what and when we can come back. None of us did and no one was informed.

I no longer have a relationship with the adoptive parents, they have cut me out of their life for the past 13 years after I took my youngest adoptive brother to court in regards to my first born. I guess they were hoping for it to be swept under the rug and I did what was right for my family. I have no regrets with that issue and there are some family members who still talk to me and I am thankful for that.

Yes I wish my mom never died, I wish I grew up with my siblings surrounded by family, that I know my culture and speak Ojibwe but this is not the case. That was taken from me, ripped away if you will. The ripples from that decision made by that “society” almost killed me in my younger years of life but I survived, I survived.

My name is Dianna Ferderber (George) – Giniw kwe. I have had a journey full of lessons and healing, now I am a proud Indigenous woman I have four beautiful strong Indigenous children and two beautiful grandchildren who put a smile on my face daily. I am learning my culture through the past twelve years and just started learning my language. I am a survivor and my history though at times is heartbreaking it is also a beautiful story.



Ohpikiihaakan-ohpihmeh (Raised somewhere else)

A 60s Scoop Adoptee’s Story of Coming Home

By Colleen Cardinal  Foreword by Raven Sinclair (Ótiskewápíwskew)

During the 60s Scoop, over 20,000 Indigenous children in Canada were removed from their biological families, lands and culture and trafficked across provinces, borders and overseas to be raised in non-Indigenous households.

Ohpikiihaakan-ohpihmeh delves into the personal and provocative narrative of Colleen Cardinal’s journey growing up in a non- Indigenous household as a 60s Scoop adoptee. Cardinal speaks frankly and intimately about instances of violence and abuse throughout her life, but this book is not a story of tragedy. It is a story of empowerment, reclamation and, ultimately, personal reconciliation. It is a form of Indigenous resistance through truth-telling, a story that informs the narrative on missing and murdered Indigenous women, colonial violence, racism and the Indigenous child welfare system.

“With Canadians slowly awakening to the reality of the 60s Scoop and its ongoing repercussions, Cardinal’s inspiring work here is essential reading and will be an integral resource for generations to come.”

— Waubgeshig Rice, author of Legacy

“Offers a window through which readers can see why cultural suppression is such a dark chapter in Canada’s history.”

— Winnipeg Free Press

“I was removed at birth and taken in by a wonderful non native family. I got as good a start in life as possible being accepted into this family as one of their own, I learned many good things their ways offered and was loved too. I was in my early teens when I began learning my true identity, this brought a feeling of great emptiness that I did not recognize for a long time. I found my way back to our people and began to feel some happiness spending time with them, despite all the dysfunction and chaos that my life was. I tried to fill that void with many external things and hit the black road hard. I met my birth family in my late twenties and began getting to know my origins and identity. It was once I was given the gift of recovery and began learning more of where we came from and truly learn the old ways. Lack of language is a block to accessing some of this and am a slow learner being away from my language speakers. Even after 20+ years of recovery and a lot of fires to walk through in healing there is still major lingering effects of the losses experienced in being taken away. Life is much better but the damage still rears its ugly head much too often, there is much work to be done for the rest of my days. Happy to be here with others who have been on the same journey, Pilamaye yell!”  By: Russell

“Some of us were put up for adpotion but were never adopted, i ended up in many different placements accross Canada and never new my own Nationallity, i was 32 when i found my family and 37 when i met them, i come from a historical line of people on both sides of my blood, thats when i finally became proud to be alive. I was extreamly suprised to find out that my life was all a mistake that shouldnt have been, there are more then a thousand people in my family!” By: Michael


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