By Judy Bird

Leon Anderson doesn’t remember the social worker coming and taking away his siblings from their home in the mid 1950s. He was about five years old when his twin brothers Johnny and Joe were taken. It’s one of those events that either he didn’t see, or he has blocked from his mind.

Two of Leon’s brothers, Johnny Brass and Earl Anderson, reunited last summer, and their story was featured in the December 2014 issue of Treaty 4 News.

The reunion was 60 years in the making, and one that happened only because Leon was persistent in keeping the memory of his family alive.

“John and Joe were really important to me. They were just little boys, barely walking at the time,” said Leon.

“Then my sister Sharon, I remember her in a crib when she was taken away. She was six months old when taken,” he recalled.

Leon and his brother Earl, who was born after the twins but before their sister, were then also removed from their home.

Leon has many good memories of his family before it was torn apart. He remembers being a young boy on Key First Nation, his home reserve, riding around in a wagon pulled by horses, and seeing the steep banks of the Assiniboine River.

He can’t recall moving to BC, but remembers travelling by train, living in two different houses in Dawson Creek, and he remembers his parents. “I remember good things like going out and picking wild mushrooms with my dad in Dawson Creek. I really have fond memories of my mother. She used to be a very caring woman.”

He never saw his mother again but years later, he spoke with her on the phone and learned the circumstances of their removal.
“None of that was meant to happen. Social services said that we had been left alone. My mother told me that someone, one of the relatives, was supposed to come by and look after us and they never showed up. There was a miscommunication or misunderstanding, and that never happened,” Leon stated.

Leon believes that Social Services should have done more to help their family stay together at the time. “Not everybody understands the value of keeping family together. There’s a big difference between your mother, and somebody else trying to be your mother,” he said.

Although this story took place in BC, similar events also occurred across the country. Regina lawyer Tony Merchant recently filed a class action lawsuit against the federal government seeking compensation for victims of the government Adopt Indian Metis program, familiarly known as the ‘60s scoop. These days, Social Services provides supports to keep the family together whenever possible.
“Much has changed over the past 50-60 years with child welfare in our province, said Natalie Huber, Executive Director, Child and Family Programs with the Ministry of Social Services in Saskatchewan.

“Always, our focus and our goal is to maintain the family within their current structure as much as possible and avoid removing the children and placing them in care,” she said.

If placement does need to occur, the Ministry places the child/children with an extended family member or a foster home with aboriginal foster parents in order to keep the child/children close to their culture and community.

Leon and his brothers were in close proximity, but didn’t know it while they grew up, nor were they placed with Aboriginal families. A family adopted Leon and Earl, Sharon by another, and Johnny and Joe grew up in foster care in Dawson Creek, BC.

Permanently separated, the younger children grew up not knowing they had siblings, but Leon never forgot.

“I really wanted to know what happened to them,” he said.

Leon left his adoptive home when he was 15 but didn’t start looking for them right away. “When I was in Dawson Creek, after I left home, I was encouraged by my friends and everyone who knew about the situation, to look for John and Joe and try to locate them,” said Leon.

Then he learned that one of his school friends knew his mother. “He knew I had two brothers, Johnny and Joe. That was a big item in Dawson Creek, having us adopted out. Practically everybody knew about it,” Leon said.

He learned enough information to know that John and Joe were in the Dawson Creek area. About two years later, he decided to find them.
By then, Leon was living and working in another part of the province. Fate intervened one day, and Leon won an airplane ticket to fly anywhere in BC. He went to Dawson Creek. He got off the shuttle bus and went to a coffee shop, and one person inside happened to be the neighbour of Leon’s brother Joe. The man called Joe, and in a half hour, two brothers were reunited.

“He came in, his eyes were like saucers, He couldn’t believe it. He did not know about me and Earl,” said Leon.

Joe invited Leon to stay with him until Johnny returned from work in six weeks. When Johnny returned, he met Leon, but Leon also received a surprise. “I remembered seeing John in Chetwynd occasionally. I was working at the saw mills there for a year and a half. I had met my natural brother and didn’t even know it.”

Sadly, it wasn’t the only instance where Leon was near relatives and didn’t know it.

When Leon lived in Vancouver, a First Nations woman and a girl lived a block away from him. Years later, his brother John introduced Leon to their aunt and half-sister; they were his former neighbours. “Here I have my aunt and my half-sister living within a block of me, and I didn’t know anything about them.”

It’s a similar story with his sister.

“I found that my sister Sharon was adopted by a family in Burnaby, about a mile away from where I lived for over a year,” he said.
“I used to sit at night and think about my natural family. It’s something that occupied me from day to day. I was totally preoccupied with it.”

Leon wanted to find Sharon, but she found him first. Through government adoption files, she found Johnny and Joe because they kept their family name, Brass. They connected her with Leon.

“If I hadn’t found Johnny and Joe, none of us would have gotten together. That’s where the real crime is,” said Leon.

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