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Monday, March 23, 2015

First Nations Adoptee launches own search for roots

Sheila Pelletier in her home in Regina on Friday. She is an adoptee who was part of what is now known as the 60s Scoop. (TROY FLEECE / Regina Leader-Post)


By Kerry Benjoe, Leader-Post March 23, 2015

After years of rejection, a self-professed loner’s life changed after a single phone call.

Two weeks ago, Sheila Pelletier composed the most important Facebook post of her life:
“My (birth) name is Sheila Jean Marie Halkett ... I was born in 1982 in Prince Albert. I am from Montreal Lake First Nation ... Possible birth date of mother was April 21, 1948. Please share if you might have any information. Please call me ... Sheila. Thank you.”

It was a bold move but after three decades she was ready to find out the truth about her First Nation family.

“I didn’t think I would get a response so fast,” said Pelletier, who is still in shock.

She had been told by government agencies it would take about three years to get any information about her birth family.

Hours after her post, her phone rang and a man asked for her by name.

“I said, ‘This is Sheila,’ ” she said. “He said, ‘I am Howard Halkett. I’m your uncle. We’ve been looking for you.’ ”

Pelletier says she is part of what has become known as the 60s Scoop.

“In Saskatchewan, we had the Adopt an Indian or Metis program that was started in the late 1960s,” said Tara Turner, assistant professor for the School of Indigenous Social Work at the First Nations University of Canada.

As part of the program, aboriginal children were taken from their birth families and adopted out to non-aboriginal families.

“It was just a re-imagining of the residential school system,” said Turner.
She said isolating aboriginal children from their culture is not healthy because it impacts their ability to understand themselves.

“It’s really difficult for people to navigate identity when it’s been removed from them,” said Turner. “Then finding your way later in life, reconnecting with family or community. That’s not necessarily straight-forward or easy for people.”
Pelletier, who was raised on a farm in Theodore, initially had no idea her Ukrainian father and British mother were not her biological parents — until she started school.

Pelletier’s earliest memories are not pleasant.

“I was called, ‘Squaw and dirty indian,’ ” she said. “I didn’t know what those words meant.”

Pelletier told her parents and it was then she was told about her adoption.

Being the only aboriginal person in the area was far from easy and although her parents did try to defend her — often that only made things worse.

“Even if I had a bad day, I would say I had a good day.” said Pelletier.

After elementary school, she attended high school in Yorkton and although there were other aboriginal students in Yorkton, they rejected her because they thought she was “too-white.”

It was a lonely life.

“I learned to keep to myself,” said Pelletier. “I am still like that. I don’t like people.

She has begun to rethink that attitude.

To hear there were people looking for her and wanting to meet her has been overwhelming.

“I just want to go there and meet them and give them a hug,” said Pelletier.

Prior to speaking with her uncle, all she knew about her birth family was from her adoption records.

When Pelletier turned 18, her mother gave her the papers.

“I’m surprised I never lost them,” she said.

For the past 14 years, she has read and reread the information, but they never provided her any answers.
Pelletier has discovered that she is the youngest of nine — four brothers and four sisters.
However, it is not all happy news.

Her mother Hilda Bird passed away in 2006.

“I didn’t know how to feel about that, you know?” said Pelleter before the emotion took over. “I didn’t know her.”

She has also lost one sister and one brother.

Pelletier does not want to waste any more time and plans to make a family trip this summer, which includes a visit to her mother’s gravesite.

Although she has a good relationship with her adopted parents, she feels relieved to finally connect with her First Nation family.

Pelletier said it was also a relief to finally tell her own children about her past and is looking forward to sharing a new future with them, one with even more family.

She also hopes her story will encourage other adoptees to reach out and find their family before it’s too late. 

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To Veronica Brown

Veronica, we adult adoptees are thinking of you today and every day. We will be here when you need us. Your journey in the adopted life has begun, nothing can revoke that now, the damage cannot be undone. Be courageous, you have what no adoptee before you has had; a strong group of adult adoptees who know your story, who are behind you and will always be so.

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Thought-provoking and moving 11 October 2012
Two Worlds - Lost children of the Indian Adoption Projects

If you thought that ethnic cleansing was something for the history books, think again. This work tells the stories of Native American Indian adoptees "The Lost Birds" who continue to suffer the effects of successive US and Canadian government policies on adoption; policies that were in force as recently as the 1970's. Many of the contributors still bear the scars of their separation from their ancestral roots. What becomes apparent to the reader is the reality of a racial memory that lives in the DNA of adoptees and calls to them from the past.
The editors have let the contributors tell their own stories of their childhood and search for their blood relatives, allowing the reader to gain a true impression of their personalities. What becomes apparent is that nothing is straightforward; re-assimilation brings its own cultural and emotional problems. Not all of the stories are harrowing or sad; there are a number of heart-warming successes, and not all placements amongst white families had negative consequences. But with whom should the ultimate decision of adoption reside? Government authorities or the Indian people themselves? Read Two Worlds and decide for yourself.

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ADOPTION TRUTH

As the single largest unregulated industry in the United States, adoption is viewed as a benevolent action that results in the formation of “forever families.”
The truth is that it is a very lucrative business with a known sales pitch. With profits last estimated at over $1.44 billion dollars a year, mothers who consider adoption for their babies need to be very aware that all of this promotion clouds the facts and only though independent research can they get an accurate account of what life might be like for both them and their child after signing the adoption paperwork.

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