Indigenous woman in search of family after ’60s scoop adoption

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Even before she was born, her baby had listened to the traditional music of the Kwakwaka’wakw people.

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At 10 months, Natasha Pittman’s unborn child, due in November, will have a traditional christening ceremony at their home in Alert Bay, a small island of 1,300 people off the tip of Vancouver Island.

As Canada marked its first Truth and Reconciliation Day this week, the former Woodstock resident said the new federal holiday, designed to recognize lost children and residential school survivors, sparked her emotions at the way whose sixties scoop stole its cultural identity.

“It kind of raised a lot of things about my adoption and my childhood and not having a lot of things that (my baby) can have,” said Pittman, 36, who now lives in Alert Bay. in British Columbia. . “I feel like she will have a greater sense of belonging than I do as I grow older.”

From the 1960s to the mid-1980s, thousands of Aboriginal children were “taken” from their homes and adopted into predominantly non-Aboriginal families in Canada and the United States.

After being born in Edmonton in 1985, Pittman was taken away by child welfare at the age of four weeks.

Pittman was adopted by a family in Edmonton, who then moved to Woodstock, where she spent her school years.

“I never felt quite good or that I belonged in my place,” she said. “I have a lot of qualities from my adopted family, but I wanted to see someone who looks like me and know where I’m from.”

Since childhood, Pittman dreamed of reuniting with his birth mother, who attended residential schools with several siblings. Pittman was unable to begin his research due to privacy laws.

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When those rules changed, Pittman discovered his mother’s name was Marian Johnson and that she was from Alert Bay. Using social media and DNA testing, she will eventually learn that she was one of at least eight siblings.

“Mom went to residential school here in Alert Bay, and then she went in and out of the reception system,” Pittman said. “The story I have heard about residential schools and foster families is not great; the siblings spent a lot of time running away and trying to escape.

“Then they found drugs and alcohol. “

At 28, Pittman took time off from her hairdressing job and made the trip to Alert Bay with her adoptive mother, Betty Pittman. As she quickly learned that her mother had passed, it became apparent that she was related to “half the island”.

“The story told to me was that my mother was forced to sign papers while under the influence to give up her rights,” Pittman said, adding that she believed her mother had initially moved to Edmonton with her when she was a baby to make a fresh start. .

Johnson would give birth and raise two more children after returning to Alert Bay.

News travels quickly to Alert Bay and Johnson “soon sat down by the ocean and called my brother for the first time.”

“I showed up on the ferry. I remember it took my breath away, just the connection to the land, ”she said.

The discovery of thousands of bodies on residential school grounds does not come as a shock to Indigenous peoples, Pittman said.

“Every residential school survivor I spoke with heard about the children who went for a walk with the priest and never came back, or they got sick and were sent to the hospital and they never got them. reviewed, ”she said.

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Pittman said she was “shocked” by the number of her non-Native friends calling her to apologize for what their ancestors had done. “It was surprising. It seems people are starting to listen more now, ”she said.

But, she said, a holiday “won’t do anything without action following,” she said, adding that people should educate themselves on First Nations issues and support initiatives such as as the supply of potable water to reserves.

“Understand, when you see First Nations people struggling with substance abuse issues, what they went through in residential schools,” Pittman said. “I hope the day will spark more action for people to understand the first people of this country.”

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