By Judy Bird

On December 3, 2014, an Ontario court dismissed the federal government’s appeal to stop the class action lawsuit claiming that Ontario children who were part of the 60s scoop suffered a devastating loss of cultural identity. The time refers to an era when aboriginal children were taken from their homes by child welfare workers, and placed in non-aboriginal homes.

Ontario wasn’t the only province to do this.

Johnny Brass and Earl Anderson were just toddlers when social services took them and their siblings away from their family over the course of several months, and placed some in foster care and others up for adoption.

It would be many years before Johnny and Earl would get a chance to meet and get to know one-another.

At the time of their apprehension the two boys and other siblings were living with their mother in Dawson Creek, BC.

Unbeknownst to Johnny and Earl, their foster/adoptive homes were in close proximity of each other, and their mother’s house.

Now permanently separated, the chance of them reuniting was gone, but destiny and chance, and perhaps fate, changed those odds.

Johnny Brass’s story

Johnny Brass was placed in the same foster home with his twin brother, Joe, in Dawson Creek when they were not quite three years old. They lived with one family until they were seven-and-a-half.

“We were subjected to a lot of abuse, violence, drinking,” said Johnny. “If (child welfare services) were afraid of that for me and my brother and putting us into some sort of protection, the environment they put us in was far more detrimental than us being with our parents or another family member.”

The boys were moved to a second family that raised them, and both still keep in contact today.

When Johnny was 17, he had a surprise visit from an unknown brother, Leon.

Johnny was working along the Alaskan Highway, and went to the town of East Pine to visit his brother Joe.

“I went to the store and asked the owner of the store if he’d seen Joe around. He said, ‘oh your brother is here.’ (referring to Leon). Eventually Leon and I met, and as soon as I met him, without any doubt, he was my brother just because of the family resemblance,” Johnny recalled.

Another coincidence occurred when Johnny found and met his mother.

It was 1975, and he stopped in Dawson Creek to visit his foster dad.

The evening news was on and an announcement was made about a lost boy.

The mother didn’t have a phone, so they gave out her name, Alice Brass, and her address.

Johnny had a feeling she was his mother. He told his foster dad, and he convinced Johnny to go find out. It took a few hours, but he mustered up the courage to go.

Johnny knocked on the door, it didn’t open, but a woman said the boy had been found. Johnny then asked if her name was Alice Harriet Brass.

After a short silence, she said yes. He asked if she had twin boys in the Dawson Creek area. After a longer silence, the answer again was yes.

“I said, ‘Well I’m one of them. I’m Johnny.’ The door flew open and my mom, she just threw her arms around me and was hugging me, and was laughing and crying at the same time,” Johnny recalled.

Though they’d reconnected, their relationship was strained. “My mom cried a lot about the residential schools and the things that happened to her. The sad part about that was that my mom never once asked me what it was like for me growing up, to grow up without her and to live without her. We kept and maintained the relationship but it always felt superficial,” Johnny said.

Earl Anderson’s story

Earl grew up in Pouce Coupe, BC, just outside Dawson Creek, with adoptive parents, who owned a farm along the Alaska Highway at mile 27 1/2.

He had one biological brother, Leon, but no memory of other siblings.

“I was not two yet before we were taken away. I don’t really know the circumstances why,” Earl said. “All is know is that my adoptive mother told me we had been abandoned, left alone in the house for three days and then social services took us.”

“My adopted mother had no idea there were other children, she thought there was only Leon and I, and that’s what welfare had told her. My mother said if she knew there were other children involved, she would have tried to adopt all of us,” said Earl.

Their adoptive home was less than idyllic, but there was nothing they could do.

“We always knew we were adopted. We knew we were native, but we were not allowed to have friends who were native, not allowed to speak about it, not allowed to have anything to do with any part of native culture. We were told we were a lower class of people that we didn’t want to end up like them. I never knew what was so bad about them but I didn’t dare ask,” Earl said.

“They had absolute control and we were powerless. The biggest part of the problem back then was no accountability. They had carte blanche to assimilate us. Beat the savage out of us,” Earl recounted.

Leon left home at 15 and never came back.

“He and my adoptive parents never got along at all. It was like putting a match to kerosene,” said Earl. “I was a lot younger, and I think they were able to mold me. When you see your older brother, like what was happening, and you’re terrified. You’re just thinking ‘I don’t want that to happen to me’ and it was pretty brutal back then. You look at that and just learn to tow the line, so to speak, even though the line was ever changing. It was like maneuvering through a minefield. I stuck it out until I was 18.”

Earl continued to visit with his adoptive parents but had no contact with Leon for about 10 years.

During that time, Leon found the twins, Johnny and Joe. When Earl reconnected with Leon in the1970s, Leon told Earl about their twin brothers.

Emotional reunion

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Johnny (left) presented Earl with a drum and eagle feather to go along with a teaching. Johnny made the drum from hide that he cured himself. Photo: Andi Christine Bednarzig

Johnny met his siblings except for Earl although they had spoken over the phone on occasion.

“I just found out last year that there were 14 of us,” said Earl. “It was a shock to know that Johnny and Joe were between Leon and I. I just couldn’t get over it. I always thought they were younger than us. ”

This summer, they arranged to meet at Duck Mountain Lodge east of Kamsack, Saskatchewan and close to The Key First Nation – the band the brothers belong to.

Earl lives in Quebec and arrived at the lodge first. He eagerly anticipated the arrival of his brother who was travelling from the Yukon.

Finally at 2 a.m. on a Sunday morning, almost 60 years since their separation, Earl received a phone call.

Johnny was outside.

It was an emotional reunion and the final piece of a puzzle for a family torn apart.

“We sat up til 5 or 6 in the morning just talking, You’re a bit apprehensive and you want to just know what they’re like, if they’re like you. You want to know everything at once but you know it can’t happen like that,” said Earl.

The long-lost brothers spent the next two days getting acquainted before heading off in opposite directions.

“To meet Earl was something that I’d been looking forward to for a long time,” said Johnny. “I feel whole in my family today because Earl was a missing link. Now I have that connection, and we can build that brotherly relationship together. I just feel grateful and thankful that Creator found a way for us to come together.”

The reunion brought joy, and stirred other emotions. The siblings have met each other, but they have never come together as a family.

“Here I am, just turned 60, and I meet my brother Earl for the first time,” said Johnny. “What sort of bullshit is that? Just for us to come together as a family is very complex and complicated.”

Millennium Scoop

“The government practice has been going on longer than we care to admit,” said Dr. Jacqueline Maurice, an expert on the 60s Scoop. Her recently published book “The Lost Children – A Nation’s Shame” deals with the subject of children in care and includes her own story living in foster care.

With changes to the Indian Act in 1951, Saskatchewan and other provinces began apprehending children living on reserve.

“If you talk to people now, you will hear the term ‘Millennium Scoop’ because dare I say, what has changed?  The number of our children still in care is still quite high. In Saskatchewan, we have First Nation Child and Family services, but we are still very much following the legislated polices and practices of the provincial government.”

In 2008, Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Social Services reported that 80 percent of children in foster care were aboriginal. It’s a statistic that hasn’t changed much since then.

Once a child is in the system, it gets harder for them to reconnect with famil(Left)((Left) y.

“Searching and researching one’s roots takes a lot of strength and courage, not knowing what the outcome will be. Not everyone who goes back to their home community is welcomed back with open arms. It can be another letting go process, experiencing another loss,” she said.

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(Left) Johnny and (right) Earl visit with Elder Campbell Papequash from the Key First Nation.

For Johnny Brass and Earl Anderson the reconnection was welcomed by each other and with the Elders on The Key First Nation.

Johnny has been returning there for the past 15 years. He’s reconciled his feelings about his mother, now feeling proud and grateful to be her son and the birthright she gave him. “Learning about spirituality, ceremonies, medicines, my culture, I began to experience having an identity. I had no idea what it was to have that. Then I was able to make a separation, and understand what it was to be assimilated,” he said.

He hopes that someday people can unite as one voice and have the system recognized as another source of assimilation meant to take the “Indian out of the child.”

 

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