Family disintegration among aboriginal families is very high in Winnipeg. This is rooted in many issues, including colonization, residential schools, the Sixties Scoop, Child and Family Services, and now gang involvement. I want to tell you my story of how the Sixties Scoop has affected me and how it has disintegrated my family. I will give you detailed information about my life history to let you know how far I have come in my life’s journey. I will warn you that my story is graphic and painful to read.
I will start at the beginning. Boozhoo Mushkotay Biziakee Ikwe indigincuz Pezew Dotem. Hello, my name Brown Buffalo Woman from Lynx Clan. My family is from Grassy Narrows. My grandparents had a settlement on Jones Road, the road leading into Grassy Narrows First Nation. We were a small community with aunties, uncles, cousins, and grandparents that all looked out for each other. When I was one year old, Child and Family Services came to Jones Road and took all the children away as part of the Sixties Scoop. My sister, brother and I were sent to Winnipeg, and we lived in several different foster homes around the city for six years. My other family members were sent to the USA, England, and Austria. To this day they have not returned. I have spoken on the phone with one family member in England who said that he would not return for fear of culture shock. In my home community we are called “The Lost Ones.”
I am a third generation residential school survivor. My grandparents attended the residential school Cecilia Jeffrey in Kenora, Ontario. They married, settled, and planned to raise their family on Jones Road. Canadian government policies were still in place that forced children into residential schools. Our parents were removed from Jones Road to the same school that my grandparents had been sent to in Kenora, Cecilia Jeffery. My mother is a mystery to me: I don’t have any photographs of her, I don’t know what she looked like, and I don’t know if I look like her or have similar traits. All I have is what people have told me about her. I am sure my mother had hopes and dreams for us, but that all shattered that day at Jones Road. My mother suffered from heartbreak and gave up on life. She didn’t seek medical help when she contracted TB. She did not want to go to the residential school setting of the sanitarium – it probably would bring back old nightmares. I believe that, with her children gone, she had no reason to live. I really didn’t know my dad and just recently found out that he had died. I did not have a relationship with him since I was taken by CFS.
When I was four we were sent to live with a Lutheran pastor and his wife named the Hafermans. They had twelve foster kids with five biological teenagers. As soon as we arrived, I was sexually abused by their sons. We stayed there for one year before being split up and sent to other homes around Winnipeg. At age seven, I was taken into care for six years and was placed in five foster homes and a receiving home. I was told that we were going to be placed back with the Hafermans for adoption and moved to the states. We later found out that we were not legally adopted. I still wonder if it is because they were collecting money from CFS in Winnipeg. I was so happy to be with my siblings. I really didn’t care about the Hafermans, I thought that it was a good thing to be back together with my siblings. My brother knew we shouldn’t go back and was scared for us. The Hafermans were religious fanatics. We paid the price together. We went to Bay City, Michigan, then to Columbus, Ohio due to the Hafermans being transferred to different churches. Their sons started their sexual and physical abuse right where they left off when I was four. We also experienced ritual abuse in the name of the lord from the parents. They showed us graphic pictures and movies of the devil, and where my soul would go if I wasn’t saved.
In the second year, my sister left Ohio after she tried to commit suicide by overdosing on drugs. She was sent back to Winnipeg, since we were still under the city’s CFS care. My sister’s life went out of control when she returned to Winnipeg. She coped with the past through drugs and alcohol, and within two years she was being exploited in the sex trade. Today she suffers from mental health issues and lives on the street. We have not resolved any issues and feel the pain of her leaving us behind with the Hafermans. When she left the Hafermans the abuse escalated. My brother and I were taken to the basement and raped in front of each other by the sons daily, or whenever they got a chance. This sexual and physical abuse went on for the next two years. While the parents did not sexually abuse us, the mother hurt us physically. In the fourth year, my brother fought back when Mrs. Haferman hit him and he was sent directly to Winnipeg and put in Agazzi Youth Correctional Facility.
I stayed one more year with the Hafermans. I was terrified at being alone with them and knew that the abuse would grow and I was even more alone. To stop the abuse I cut my legs. I have forty-three scars on my legs that saved me from the sexual abuse. I used the blood from my wounds to put in my undergarments. This was my way to protect myself by saying that I was on my period and not available to be abused. Finally, at thirteen, I couldn’t take it anymore and ran away. The Ohio state troopers found me hitchhiking and I told them my story. I screamed and yelled not to be returned to their home. I was sent back to Winnipeg. I did not return to Jones Road, instead, I was shifted back and forth between foster homes and group homes. My brother and sister were both diagnosed with schizophrenia. I was the only one not diagnosed with this disease. My siblings and I had to search for each other. We were reunited but there was no happy ending. We each carry our own scars and nightmares that will never go away. On his eighteenth birthday, my brother said to me that he could not look at me anymore because of the abuse and killed himself. We only had three years together as brother and sister in Winnipeg.
Most of us who have been through the CFS system have lost everything: our identities, families, communities and sense of belonging. We get stuck in depression, grief, addictions and suicide attempts. We have to climb ourselves out of the darkness. I know I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and that my native culture has guided me out of a dark place. Singing has helped me to heal and has lifted my spirit. I am a single mother and have three beautiful children that I am raising within the community and culture. They will never have to search for belonging or for their culture. I will never really know if this gift of song was passed on to me from my mother. I have gone full circle in my journey and have been welcomed back to my home reserve, but I am still a long way from Jones Road. When you go into the child welfare system it affects your whole being. You lose so much of the emotional, physical, mental and spiritual parts of you that it is hard to get back what was taken away. I have not connected with my sister and father and did not know he was dead until recently. I have just met his family and they informed me of his death. I am still meeting family from Jones Road and the reserve. I feel very alone and still feel the loneliness of wishing I had been brought up with my blood family. I have a few friends who have become like a family where I get the support and resources that I need. I have come a long way in my healing journey and assist others as they start on their healing path. I use culture and the support of elders and traditional teachers. I look for help when I need to from the mainstream social service agencies.
I tell my story in order to help others understand the devastation of the CFS experience. I belong to drum groups and give back and participate in community events such as Idle No More, and Missing and Murdered Women events, funerals, graduations. We need more programs like this to encourage and support people in our community when they are in pain and need someone to listen to them. I have recently finished my grade 12 diploma and I am currently in my second year at University of Winnipeg. This is my healing path that keeps me strong and balanced. By informing others I hope that I can make a difference in a person’s life!