Seized as a tod­dler and meet­ing her sib­lings for the first time in mid­dle age, re­porter Betty Ann Adam was part of Canada’s in­fa­mous Six­ties Scoop. The Na­tional Film Board of Canada has made her deeply mov­ing story into a doc­u­men­tary, Birth of a Fam­ily.

National Post (Latest Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - Betty Ann Adam

I’m three years old. I re­mem­ber I’m wear­ing a plaid dress that I don’t usu­ally wear. It’s too small for me.

There’s a po­lice­man and a lady in the room and they’re be­ing re­ally nice to me. My mother’s arms are tight around me; she’s cry­ing and plead­ing. I don’t know why they are tak­ing me away from her.

I’m in a po­lice car. It’s a hot sum­mer day and the seat is burn­ing my legs. The woman puts me on her lap. Next, I’m in an air­plane look­ing down at tiny cars on the road. Fi­nally, I’m at the farm where I find my­self, with­out know­ing why, liv­ing a new life.

I was part of the Six­ties Scoop. I’m an in­dige­nous woman who was raised as a fos­ter child in a non-na­tive home. My birth mother, Mary Jane Adam, at­tended Holy An­gels In­dian Res­i­den­tial School in Fort Chipewyan, Al­berta. She left the school in her teens but never re­turned to the re­serve to live.


She was 22 and sin­gle when I was born in Ura­nium City, a fly-in min­ing town in the north­west cor­ner of Saskatchewan, 85 kilo­me­tres west of her home re­serve of Fond du Lac. My sis­ter Esther was born in Ura­nium City two years af­ter me.

In the early 1960s, few in Cana­dian so­ci­ety had less power than an un­mar­ried In­dian woman with kids. So­cial work­ers ap­pre­hended Esther when she was three months old. My mother got to keep me for al­most an­other year be­fore they pried me from her arms.

The mem­ory of that mo­ment has never left me, but as an adult, it’s my mother’s pain that haunts me. It was the end of my child­hood with my mother. It was the mo­ment when the split hap­pened. I wouldn’t hear my first lan­guage again un­til I was an adult.


I was placed with a farm­ing fam­ily in a home that was safe and in­clu­sive. There were three Metis fos­ter chil­dren in the fam­ily, but we had al­most no con­nec­tion to other in­dige­nous peo­ple or cul­ture.

In the white world my fos­ter fam­ily moved in, we stood out as dif­fer­ent. My only op­tion was to do my best to fit in.

In the 1960s, Cana­di­ans weren’t care­ful about what they said about In­di­ans. Most looked down on them. When peo­ple were kind, ver­bal and non- ver­bal mes­sages of­ten im­plied that I was ac­cept­able in spite of be­ing na­tive.

Our f am­ily moved to Prince Al­bert in 1968. In ele­men­tary school, we had a unit in Grade 6 on the First Peo­ples, but the only thing I learned from it was that I was an outsider from them, too.

I had felt proud that we were l earn­ing about my her­itage, but when one of my non- na­tive class­mates told me I was mis­pro­nounc­ing the name of my own peo­ple, the Chipewyan, I was em­bar­rassed and ashamed.

I could never be white, but it seemed I wasn’t re­ally In­dian, ei­ther. Who was I?

I wasn’t aware then that fit­ting in by try­ing to be like those around me meant keep­ing my dis­tance from other na­tive kids or at least never talk­ing about the shame­ful fact of be­ing na­tive if I was with one.

Yet, the nag­ging ques­tion about who I was and where I be­longed stayed with me.

In Grade 8, the only in­for­ma­tion I could find about the Chipewyan in the school li­brary was a thin pam­phlet with a half- page de­scrip­tion, since dis­puted, that said they were fierce and war- lov­ing and aban­doned their peo­ple who were too sick or frail to travel.

I didn’t want any­thing to do with those peo­ple.

Af­ter school one day, my mom told me the so­cial worker had phoned and said I had a sis­ter. I was thrilled and ex­cited to meet her. But it seemed like months went by with no fur­ther in­for­ma­tion. No one told me she lived on a farm about 150 kilo­me­tres away.

Then, at a wed­ding, a fam­ily friend said, “Betty Ann, your sis­ter is my cousin, she lives with my aun­tie. She’s so cute!”

I was dev­as­tated. I was hurt and an­gry. She was sup­posed to be mine, my sis­ter. I didn’t know the first thing about her but some­body else near me had a re­la­tion­ship with her and con­sid­ered her a cousin. I left the room in tears. Once again, white peo­ple knew more about my peo­ple, my own fam­ily, than I did.

About two months later, I fi­nally met Ros­alie, my 11- year- old lit­tle sis­ter who had been taken from our mother at birth. She was the third child to be scooped from her.

It felt like she was the first blood re­la­tion I’d ever met. Ros­alie and I had the same smile and the same hands. I was fi­nally con­nected to some­one with the same roots as me.

We vis­ited each other’s homes and wrote letters for a few years, but we had no day- to- day life to­gether, no shared ex­pe­ri­ence. Meet­ing that bub­bly lit­tle stranger didn’t give me any greater un­der­stand­ing of who I was. She was as dis­con­nected from our ori­gins as I was.

Af­ter Ros­alie’s f am­ily moved to Al­berta, we lost track of each other for many years.


At 19, I was train­ing as a den­tal as­sis­tant and had a chance to do an in­tern­ship in Ura­nium City, the town where I was born. I jumped at it. Go­ing there might help me learn about my­self.

I was staying with my su­per­vis­ing den­tist. Over din­ner, I told her my story. The next day, she showed me a black binder that con­tained the mem­ber­ship list for nearby Fond du Lac.

We found my mother’s name, Mary Jane Adam, and un­der it, my name and birth­date and those of my three sib­lings – Esther, Ros­alie and Ben, the youngest and only boy.

It was the first time I had seen my name in the con­text of the fam­ily I came from.

I had no mem­ory of my sis­ter Esther born when I was two. I learned I had a brother.

The list had no in­for­ma­tion on where any of us lived. I wrote the names and birth­dates on a slip of pa­per. The list ig­nited a vi­sion, a de­sire, an in­ten­tion.


A few years later, I had a chance meet­ing on a bus with a Fond du Lac man. We had a long talk and he of­fered to con­nect me with my re­la­tions. I ac­cepted, but with trep­i­da­tion.

As much as I wanted to find out who I was, I had lived my whole life afraid of “In­di­ans.” I had man­aged by fit­ting into the white world. It would take me many, many years to truly see my­self as an in­dige­nous per­son.

Not long af­ter, I re­ceived a call from Archie, a man who called me “Cousin.” I learn- ed that there were peo­ple who re­mem­bered me, who claimed me.

Archie said his mother and our grand­fa­ther had of­ten men­tioned my sib­lings and me, won­der­ing where we were. My mother had gone south years ear­lier and no one knew where she was.

Archie said our grand­fa­ther was get­ting old and wanted to see me be­fore he died. I balked. I was ner­vous about step­ping across the chasm be­tween the world I’d grown up in and the one I was born to.

I met many of my cousins when they vis­ited the city. One of them called me in 1985, say­ing the Sal­va­tion Army had helped him lo­cate my mother. She was liv­ing in Van­cou­ver’s Down­town East­side and he had an ad­dress.

I wrote to her and she replied. I wanted to con­nect but I was leery of get­ting too close.

I fi­nally gath­ered the courage to visit my grand­fa­ther in 1986, just months be­fore he died.

Go­ing to one of Saskatchewan’s north­ern­most re­serves, be­fore the In­ter­net or even ca­ble TV, was like trav­el­ling to an­other coun­try. It was star­tling to be in the ma­jor­ity, among black-haired peo­ple who looked like me. Every­body spoke Dene, as I’d learned to call our peo­ple. They tried to speak English when I was in the room, a fact that re­minded me I was dif­fer­ent.

My grand­fa­ther, Ben Adam, was 84, bent and white- haired. My cousins trans­lated his words for me. I was over­whelmed at hav­ing a grand­fa­ther who was re­ally mine. I was hun­gry to be a grand­daugh­ter, but I felt greedy for ask­ing too many ques­tions.

I some­times had the sense I be­haved dif­fer­ently than oth­ers, as if there were un­spo­ken ex­pec­ta­tions that I didn’t know about.

But my re­la­tions wel­comed me un­re­servedly as fam­ily and treated me with a kind­ness and gen­eros­ity that was hum­bling.

My cousin Billy, with a proud and happy smile, stepped into the mid­dle of the liv­ing room one af­ter­noon and held out to me a pair of muk­luks made for him by his mother. The hand-tanned cari­bou hide smelled of wood smoke, the beaver fur was thick and glossy and the flo­ral bead­work was the prod­uct of an ex­pert hand.

I felt un­wor­thy of such a pre­cious gift.

I re­al­ized my in­dige­nous iden­tity had felt like a shadow that fol­lowed me and that I had feared all my life. When I stopped run­ning and turned to meet it, I saw a friend. I saw my fam­ily. I saw my­self.

My r ela­tion­ship with my mother evolved slowly, through oc­ca­sional letters, cards and phone calls.

In 1991, she vis­ited me in Saska­toon on her first trip back to Saskatchewan in many years. The day she was to ar­rive, I ate at a Chi­nese restau­rant where my for­tune cookie read: “You will soon re­ceive some­thing you have al­ways wanted.”

In those awk­ward first days to­gether, I showed her the for­tune. She read it and looked at me for a few mo­ments be­fore say­ing, “Do you mean me?” All I could do was nod. It was too close to the child’s big ques­tions that could only sound ac­cusatory: Why did you let me go? Didn’t you want me? How could you let this hap­pen?

I didn’t want to judge her. I knew there were no sim­ple an­swers.

I asked care­ful ques­tions about my ori­gins and my sib­lings. She tried to an­swer them, but there were lim­its to what she would say. It was clearly painful for her to talk about what hap­pened.

We stayed in touch and vis­ited oc­ca­sion­ally. She l oved Zane Grey nov­els, Scrab­ble and Bingo. She laughed of­ten.

My mother didn’t an­swer ques­tions about res­i­den­tial school, other than to say it’s where she learned to knit. She sent my daugh­ter and me many pairs of hand-knit socks.

My mother and Ros­alie never con­nected. I tried to lo­cate Esther and Ben, but it was an emo­tion­ally tax­ing job that re­quired fill­ing out forms with ques­tions I couldn’t an­swer. The gov­ern­ment wouldn’t give in­for­ma­tion about fos­ter chil­dren to sib­lings. Our mother was the only per­son who might re­ceive such in­for­ma­tion, but I never com­pleted the process of order­ing forms to mail to her to sign and send back.

In 2006, I got a call from St. Paul’s Hospi­tal in Van­cou­ver. My mother was in the in­ten­sive care unit in sep­tic shock. I was stunned and fright­ened. Should I go?

When I got there, she was on a breath­ing tube, her eyes closed. She was thin and frail. But when I spoke to her she was able to squeeze my hand and she squeezed it again when I sang Amaz­ing Grace.

Her long­time com­pan­ion Joe and I were with her when she died. She was 72.

Af­ter she died, I met peo­ple who knew my mother, like her neigh­bours and so­cial worker. Her doc­tor said many of her pa­tients with hard lives had be­come bit­ter. That didn’t hap­pen to my mother. She ac­cepted her cir­cum­stances with grace. She laughed a lot and had mean­ing­ful friend­ships.

I thought about my fear of get­ting too close to her. I’d been afraid that she would need more than I could give her. Now I re­gret not hav­ing given more of my­self, es­pe­cially when I think about how she didn’t get to raise her chil­dren.

There was a stat­uette in her room of an In­dian mother hold­ing a baby. She never got to be that mother.

They flew my mother’s body back to Prince Al­bert. From there, Ros­alie and I, our two daugh­ters, Joe and a few cousins flew in a small char­tered plane, with our mother’s cas­ket be­tween the seats, as we made a pil­grim­age to our home­land.

We were do­ing right by our mother, but it was too lit­tle, too late.



Three gen­er­a­tions: Betty Ann Adam, her daugh­ter, and Betty Ann’s birth mother, Mary Jane Adam.


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