From the 1960s to the '80s, some 20,000 Aboriginal children were removed from their homes and placed with non-Native families. Now adults, many want redress for the loss of cultural identity.
Published in United Church Observer in April 2015
Sally Susan Mathias was four years old in 1967 when child welfare services removed her and her six-year-old sister, Doris Lynn, from their home, part of the Beaverhouse First Nation near Kirkland Lake, Ont.
They were put on a boat and, through a blur of tears, watched as the solitary figure of their mother receded into a faint outline and then vanished, like a lost dream. Sally wouldn't set eyes on her mother again until she was 18.
Their five older siblings, inexplicably, were left behind. The two sisters stayed together in foster care until Sally, then nine, was adopted by a Catholic family with four kids. Her new parents changed her name to Marcia (she is known as Marcia Brown Martel today).
She says her adoptive father treated her well. But Brown Martel says her relationship with her adoptive mother was very harsh, leading her to break off ties with her adoptive family at age 17. She says she remains completely estranged today.
By the time she returned to the reserve where she was born, she could speak only English, and the absence of her original Objibwa dialect made it difficult to connect with family members, including her mother.
"I could not speak my mother's language," she says. "How do you talk about your emotions when you cannot even speak the words?"