Interview and Essay with Tonia Wessel, Sixties Scoop adoptee
|Tonia Wessel, an Ojibway woman, was adopted out of her community as a newborn and grew up in New Zealand. An estimated 20,000 children were adopted out of First Nations families and placed into non-First Nations homes between the 1960s and 1980s.|
The following interview is with Tonia Wessel, an Ojibway woman who was adopted out as a newborn and grew up in New Zealand. It is only as an adult, with children of her own, that Tonia is reconnecting with her biological family.
Following this interview is a brief essay written by Tonia Wessel.
Annie Clair:When did you realize that your were adopted?
Tonia Wessel: I am not quite sure, but I know my adopted parents had a book on adoption and they read it to me at a fairly young age, and also being native growing up in a white family would've been noticeable.
AC: Talk about your own experiences, being an adoptee.
TW: I don't recall anything growing up that made me feel different with my siblings, but the way I was, so loud and just out there as my adoptive family are very conservative, very quiet. but the way I was treated I think was different, but I was a rebel so maybe that's why. Climbing out of windows at night, or smoking in my teenage years, stealing at a young age, none of my siblings did any of that. So I was totally the opposite.
AC: What has your experience been like, trying to learn about your past?
TW: My journey in trying to find my biological parents took a very long time almost 12 years, as I applied as soon as I was 18 years old. I was 29 by the time I heard back. I'm not too sure as to why, if I got lost in the system or if it was because I moved around a lot. I came to accept that my biological mother had me at a very young age, and wasn't in a good situation to look after me, but I have questions as to why no one knew about me, all I can think is that she kept it hidden.
I didn't know I had two other sisters, but recently have been reunited with them and still have contact with them.
AC: How do you feel not knowing your language, culture ?
TW: Since I have been back home, I have embraced our culture and want to learn as much as I can, It is a big part of me not knowing it, or how to speak it, and when I hear others speaking it, its almost an overwhelming feeling cos I can almost see myself speaking it too. It is such a beautiful culture and language, and I get mad, when I know that colonization tried to take something so beautiful and our pride away from us.
AC: How did being adopted out of your community affect you & your parents?
TW: I think not growing up with the culture is a sad loss, knowing that if we had stayed here in Canada, my life might have been so different, as I could have learned the songs, the language, the beautiful crafts that our culture has and learn the teachings and experienced it. Even if my adopted parents wouldn't let me go to the friendship centers to learn, if I was here growing up, I'm sure I would have climbed out the window like how I did, when I wanted to go somewhere. I was very stubborn when I wanted my own way, and still am.
The Impact of Native Adoption by Tonia Wessel:
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.