Sixties Scoop survivor shares painful ordeal of being torn away from family

Published on Tuesday, 26 July 2022 08:38

Editor’s note: This is the first of as two-part series that tells the story of one Sixties Scoop survivor from the Valley and the impacts this has had on her life.
The aftermath of the Sixties Scoop is still having a devastating impact on the families it tore apart. Even though there are settlement programs in place for survivors of the Sixties Scoop, there are very few resources and supports in place to assist them with counseling and legal matters surrounding their identity and family.
Former Valley resident, Susan Chief, was a child claimed by the Sixties Scoop, along with her siblings, and she has experienced the disconnect that resulted from it.
“I’m 68 years old now and I still can’t understand why they took these children to families in the United States, when there were homes all over Manitoba or Canada,” said Susan Chief. “It’s just unbelievable that they would take Metis and Indigenous children to be given to families outside of the country.
“There were 10 children in our family, but we had an older sister who passed away at the age of three. Our family moved from Duck Bay to Birch River, because my dad was a pulp cutter and he worked in the bush. We went almost everywhere, as a family, and my mom and dad never left us anywhere. They made sure we were with them.
“In 1969, we were in Birch River and I would have been about 13 or 14 years old, when we were all taken from my parents,” said Chief. “I still remember, to this day, exactly how we were taken. They pulled up in two cars and put all of us in, except for my oldest brother who ran into the bush when they came. They never bothered to find him. I didn’t know what was going on at the time, because both of my parents were home when they came and took us.
“My parents didn’t say anything, but I knew they were afraid of the authorities, because they had the control. I remember those days. I was very observant and listened to what was said. My parents looked at us with their heads down and had very sad faces as the workers put us into the cars. We didn’t know where we going or why. I remember being excited at first to be going somewhere in a car, but I didn’t know I wouldn’t be coming back or that it was permanent.”
The journey for the Chief children took them to an office in Swan River where they would be divided up into pairs and sent off to live with other people.
“They took us to Swan River and I remember going into this building that was by Merv’s,” said Chief. “It had stairs and an office. They had us lined up against the wall and they never explained anything to us about what was going on. My sister, Alice, and I were taken to my uncle on my dad’s side. I didn’t know where the other ones went.”
Eventually Chief found out where her siblings were placed. She was able to visit with them for a while, before the separation became too much to bare and the visits were ended.
“I later on found out that two of my brothers were in a foster home in Armstrong and the other two brothers were placed with a cop and his wife in a trailer court,” said Chief. “The other two sisters were placed in Swan River. I was able to go visit my siblings here and there. Then one day I wanted to go visit them, so I had to ask the social workers and was told no. When I asked why, they told me that when I went to see my siblings, they would cry and get upset when I had to leave. I never got to see my siblings again after that.
“I often asked the social workers if I could go see my siblings and the answer was always no. I didn’t even know when they were removed from Swan River.”
Chief was adjusting well to life with her aunt and uncle. She didn’t realize that both her sister and her would be removed from family yet again.
“I was happy when I was at my uncle’s because I knew I was with family,” said Chief. “We were there for about a year. During that time, a lady next door would invite me to go bake cookies with her and I would go. She would talk to me about things and invited me over without asking my aunt.
“She would tell me stuff about a lady in Benito that looks after girls. This lady had a girl staying with her that ran away and never came back. The girl was apparently from Camperville and I knew of her mom when I lived in Bowsman. The lady kept telling me how nice this other woman in Benito was. How she wanted more girls in the house and it would be great if my sister and I went to go live there.
“Next thing I knew, we were removed from my aunt and uncle’s place and taken to go live with that woman in Benito,” said Chief. “No one told me anything about this happening or even asked me if I wanted to go. I didn’t want to leave. We were placed with this woman and she made us work hard. We had to do all the garden work, do the laundry, iron out all of her clothes, bring them up to her, and clean the home. I missed my aunt, uncle, siblings and parents so much.
“I remember sitting in that garden and looking around, feeling so very lonely. I never felt loved or wanted. This woman would call me stupid all the time and for reasons I didn’t even know.”
Chief was bussed into Swan River to attend school. She made friends with other children who were foster children in the area and soon built up the courage to leave her foster home.
“We had to take a bus to the school in Swan River and a couple of times I wouldn’t go home,” said Chief. “I would take the bus to go with a friend, who was also a foster child, and go to Mafeking. I used to get into trouble for doing that, because I never asked permission, but I did it anyway. I did it a couple of times and eventually I wasn’t bothered at all.
“I wound up homeless in Swan River. I didn’t have any money, winter clothing or anything and no one came looking for me. No one wondered where I was, how I was doing and if I was safe. I hung out wherever I could and wound up staying with a friend and her mom. They were very nice to me and I was welcomed there.
“I was a lost person in Swan River,” said Chief. “I didn’t know where my parents were and at the time I thought Duck Bay was a great distance away from me, like thousands of miles away. I didn’t realize it was only an hour away.
“I eventually hitchhiked to The Pas with a lady I didn’t even know. I met random people and stayed with them. I was 17 then and eventually got a job at a hotel in The Pas and washed dishes. I was fortunate that I had some survival skills and was able to take care of myself.”
As time passed, Chief soon learned more about where her family was located. She never gave up looking for her siblings and eventually she was able to reconnect with some of them.
“I learned years later that two of my sisters were moved to Gary, Indiana,” said Chief. “Throughout my life, I always tried to find out what happened to my siblings and parents, and where they were. I would look in the phone books or I would call 411 and look for the last name Chief.
I didn’t know my siblings last names were changed, so I was looking under their original given names. I would call every one of them and did that for many years.
“My uncle was a social worker in The Pas and he told my dad he found one of my sisters. They told me this and we had to go get her. My sister Alice, who I was placed in the foster home with, was married and living in Kenora, ON. She, along with her husband and my mom, went to Gary, Indiana, to pick Mary up. She had a little 10-month-old boy and brought him to Winnipeg. Unfortunately, my other little sister who was with Mary in Indiana, had to stay behind because she was younger.
“Mary was apparently kicked out of her foster home when she was 14,” said Chief. “She was staying at some man’s place with her baby, when my family went to pick her up. It wasn’t long after that my other sister, Irene, who is the youngest out of all of us, came to Winnipeg by bus. We didn’t even know who we were looking for because we didn’t even know what she looked like. It was so strange because we stood at the bus depot and watched people get off the bus.
“We wondered when this young girl was going to come off the bus. Once almost everyone was off the bus, we saw this woman sitting there and she came out. It was Irene.”
This was just the beginning of Chief’s reconnection with her siblings. In next week’s edition, Chief’s story continues as she struggles to reconnect with her brothers and bring one of them home.

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