Sixties Scoop survivor Colleen Hele-Cardinal has launched an interactive digital map allowing fellow survivors to share their stories.
Between the 1950s and 1980s, thousands of Indigenous children were removed from their homes by child welfare agencies and placed with mostly non-Indigenous families across Canada, the U.S. and around the world.
This experience led to a loss of culture and identity and resulted in many adoptees feeling like they don’t fit in and trying to “fill that void”, said Hele-Cardinal.
“The way we’ve been raised is very unique. As Indigenous people, we were raised in a non-Indigenous worldview. We’ve been raised to blend in, to assimilate in mainstream culture,” she said. “It’s really messed up because we experienced a lot of racism.”
Hele-Cardinal, 47, was born in Edmonton but she and her two older sisters were taken from their home in Saddle Cree First Nation in Alberta and raised in Sault Ste. Marie.
Growing up in an abusive home where she said they were treated like “second-class citizens”, Hele-Cardinal said they didn't know they were Indigenous and weren’t taught their culture.
It wasn’t until she was in her early teenage years that she learned she was Indigenous.
“It was rough. And also, it was a violent home, so we ended up fleeing that home to find our parents out west,” she said. “And we did find our parents … but there are a lot of challenges when you meet your family especially when you’re being raised with a different worldview.”
A year after the reunion, in 1990, her eldest sister was killed but her other sister still lives out west.
Hele-Cardinal, who now lives in Ottawa, is a co-founder of the Sixties Scoop Network.
In collaboration with the University of Regina Professor and Scoop survivor Raven Sinclair, who created The Pe-kīwēwin Project, Hele-Cardinal released a geographic information mapping (GIS) platform called “In Our Own Words: Mapping the 60s Scoop Survivor Diaspora” which allows the survivors to share their stories, find their family members and look at other displacements.
“It’s a visual representation of what the Sixties Scoop looks like globally, how we were taken all over the world. And it’s a platform for survivors to share what happened to them and it’s a search tool for survivors who are looking for a family, who want to be found.”
The map, coded by Jon Corbett and Nick Blackwell from Kelowna-based GeoLive company, shows how some adoptees were taken across the border to countries like the United States, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, U.K., Botswana and New Zealand.
The idea came to Hele-Cardinal back in 2014 after she had attended a No One Is Illegal conference where she saw a drawn world map with coloured strings which showed where participants came from and where they lived at the moment.
“And I was like, ‘Oh my god, that’s us.’ That’s us, the Sixties Scoop survivors. Because I knew at that time that people had been taken all over the world. So, I wanted to find a way to visualize that through the digital online map,” she recalled.
Adoptees can submit a photo or a video along with their story but they have to register and create a profile in order to do so. They can share as little or as much as they want to.
The map had a soft launch in June. Hele-Cardinal said creators are hoping for a bigger launch at the end of July with the coders and Amnesty International doing online tutorials and showing different ways of using the map.
They’re planning to host hands-on workshops across the country to teach people how to use the map and raise awareness about the Sixties Scoop once the pandemic travel restrictions are lifted and it’s safe for people to gather, she added. She also wants to release an app that would allow users to navigate the map on their phones.
In 2017, Canada reached a settlement agreement with the Scoop survivors but Hele-Cardinal said she’d like the federal government to ask the survivors for forgiveness.
“The unresolved trauma, the grief is always there. No matter what, even if we do find our families, there’s still a loss because it’s never going to be the same. Ever. We still feel like outsiders in our own community," she said.
“I think about the grief and the shame and the anger my mom has gone through, I want not just an apology, I want them to ask for forgiveness for what they did to our families.”