Treaty 4 News in partnership with the Office of the Treaty Commissioner proudly present the Ones 2 Watch. For the next 10 weeks we will present 10 individuals who are making an impact in their communities, making career moves and making people take notice of their impressive accomplishments. 

This week we focus on Betty Ann Adam, a journalist in Saskatoon who is featured in a documentary about her family reuniting decades after being torn apart.

Upcoming documentary focuses on reunited family torn apart during Sixties Scoop

By NC Raine

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Left to right, Betty Ann Adam, Esther Vandenham, Rose Yopek and Ben Tjosvold. Photo courtesy Betty Ann Adam.

In the 1960s to the early 1980s, thousands of Indigenous children were removed from their families, often without consent from the bands or families themselves, and placed into foster care. Coined as the “Sixties Scoop”, this mass displacement led to many of the children losing their culture, language, and religions. It’s estimated that 20,000 children were involved in the scoop, and decades later, many still remain estranged from their birth families.

Betty Ann Adam was one of those children removed from her family in the early 60’s.  Over 50 years later, thanks to Adam’s tireless efforts to dig up her roots, she reunited with all three of her siblings, face to face, for the first time in their lives. This unprecedented encounter is the subject of the forthcoming documentary, Birth of a Family.

Adam, a Saskatoon resident and accomplished reporter, has been writing for the Star Phoenix for 27 years. For 10 of those years, she worked the court beat, receiving national attention for her coverage of the 2003 inquiry of Neil Stonechild’s death.

But her long journey to piece together her lost family might be her most personal work. After connecting with her cousins in college, she was able to track down her mother, Mary Jane. They met for the first time in 1990. In the proceeding years, she began to make connections with her sister, Rosalie, and learned of two other siblings, Esther and Ben.

In 2015, having met each other her siblings individually, Adam was planning on bringing her family together for the first time in their lives. But the idea to document the occasion hadn’t been planted until she spoke with Marie Wilson, Commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
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“When I told her what I was doing, her immediate response was ‘who’s documenting this?’” recalls Adam. “I laughed it off and said ‘maybe I’ll write a book some day’. But she was quite genuine in her belief that this was something worthy of being documented.”

That’s where the wheels began to turn.  Adam met with documentary filmmaker Tasha Hubbard, who immediately took to the idea. Adam spoke to her other siblings, to ensure there were no concerns with cameras capturing their intimate moment. With everyone on board, Hubbard as director, and only a few months until their planned meeting, they were able to expedite funding with the National Film Board [NFB].

“It happened a lot faster than it would usually take. [The NFB] knew there was a deadline and thought it was a worthy subject, so they just made it happen,” she says.

Then, on September 15th, 2015, with camera crews rolling in a bustling Calgary Airport terminal, Adam’s dream was finally realized as she, Rosalie, Esther, and Ben were all together for the first time in their lives.

“Everyone was feeling very joyful. Feeling those kinds of emotions to the point of everybody being a bit overwhelmed,” says Adam. “To me, it was very satisfying. It was accomplishing a dream that I had had for a very long time.”

The four siblings arranged to have a week together in Banff, where camera crews continued to documented the birth of their family. Privacy may have been somewhat compromised, but Adam and her family knew the great potential in sharing their story.

“We’re aware that we’re not the only ones that have gone through this experience. Not necessarily the meeting, but definitely the loss,” says Adam. “We know that there are thousands of indigenous adults and children who were taken from their families, from their culture, from their language. We want to shed some light on what that experience is like for us so others will see each other reflected back.”

Adam says due to the Sixties Scoop, she too lost not only her family, but her language and exposure to her culture. The coming together of her family was a joyous occasion, but the reality behind their circumstance hadn’t faded.

“Yes, [I felt resentful]. Once I found all of them, it hit me how much we missed out on. It was a pretty profound sense of loss, and anger.”

Through this documentary, Adam and her family hope to bring more awareness to those harmed by the Sixties Scoop. The Manitoba Government issued an apology for their involvement, and a class-action lawsuit is underway in Toronto to prove that Canada had an obligation in law to ensure that children removed from their homes did not lose their cultural identity.

“It’s also for other Canadians, non-native Canadians, who don’t have this experience. By sharing our experience, they might get a sense of what it means. The Sixties Scoop has been in the news a lot lately, and Canadians are becoming more aware. So we’re hoping our story will help to grow that understanding.”

Co-written by Betty Ann Adam, and directed by Tasha Hubbard, Birth of a Family is in post-production, with a release planned for late 2016 or early 2017, through the National Film Board. 

 

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