Submitted by Dale Whitford
Greetings everyone. I just like to let everyone know about the Indigenous Adoptee Gathering that happened on Sept. 20-21 in Ottawa (Algonquin territory), and to thank CUPE National for supporting me to attend. About 70 participants from across Canada and the US came together to share and talk about past experiences in either adopted or foster care.
It was good to see that traditional practices and ceremony began both of our days. There was a sacred fire with traditional medicines for our use as offerings and prayers. Also, the door of our facility was kept open- we were always aware that the burning medicines were part of our healing circle. The Elders, who began each day with prayer, spoke passionately about their own experiences in residential schools with practices and beliefs that were not part of their culture.
There was so much information by many presenters/facilitators that it was/is difficult to remember, but there were things that each of us needed to hear. As one of the presenters said, “keep and open heart, the ass will follow”! In small groups a lot of people shared painful stories of being taken away from their families at a very young age, and growing up as the ‘other’ adopted child- many of us were the only person of colour in the community or school. Addiction issues were often the reason that children were stolen from the community and most talked about personal hurt of not learning about culture, identity, traditions and language. At the gathering people spoke of finding their way back home and reconnecting with the Indigenous community and their birth families. Sometimes the reunion led to a strong bond with family members, and sometimes addiction issues or cultural differences continued to keep a distance between people. And there were also a few people who had positive stories of being loved by their adopted parents, and who had difficulty of identifying with the past.
The facilitators also had personal stories and healing that focused on traditional knowledge.
Raven Sinclair talked about pimatisiwin, which is a Cree word for the way of being in the world. She spoke about Cree Natural law and other Indigenous beliefs that reminded us not to talk loudly at others, to take only what you need from the land, and not to talk in a bad way about a person who is not present. This can keep to keep us in balance.
Denis Windego used the medicine wheel and the four stages of life (physical, emotional, mental and spiritual). He talked of how trauma events of our past can lead to flashbacks in the present and that it was our responsibility to unhook ourselves from the negative energy that can weigh us down. To do this, he asked us to stand in the north part of the circle (spiritual) and with the wisdom we’ve gained as adults, to see our child events (east) as something that happened to us back then, but not who we are today.Again, this would bring us back to balance in the present moment.
And for myself I listened to other people tell my own story of being taken out of the small community where I grew up, placed in temporary foster homes, and being the only Aboriginal person in a place where we were thought of as thieves, drinkers, and not to be trusted. It was a different time- Indian people just got the right to vote, official government policy was assimilation, and landlords openly refused renting to us.
So with that I’d like to again thank CUPE for the support, and also to let people know that the National Aboriginal Council has decided to support the Indigenous Adoptee Gathering committee and include them in initiatives for the upcoming years. Happy trails everyone, Dale Whitford, NAC Senator
- Greater Victoria CUPE Scholarship Award Recipients 2014
- Inclusive Agreement Signed