I was asked in early 2020 to contribute (in x-amount of words) to my friend's college assignment, part of which called for students to compile 3 accounts of what "Culture" meant to those who had experienced foster care in Canada. I gladly contributed as the student is a dear friend. The question or assignment, as posed to me, was: write about the impact the 60’s Scoop had on you regarding your culture. Here is my response.
I am 50 years old as I write this and am one who “aged-out” while in care. Meaning I turned 18, the legal age of consent in Alberta and up to then I had remained in government care in that province. My last social worker gave me a toaster, wished me luck then closed my file. I could no longer turn to the province (social workers) for assistance, programs or supports, and without any connection to family or community of origin, I was on my own. I mean, I had never reached out to a social worker anyway, I was told, "they're coming on this day, come home and change your clothes." I see now how performative it all was. To that point I had spent my entire life in foster care, yet I was never told who they were, what they were for, what their role in my life was. I simply understood it was for me to please them in some way, get their approval. I was never told or given insight into what my true circumstances were or those of my natural family. I was so naive I didn't even know til way late in life that foster parents were paid each month to "care" for me. I thought it was simply a kindness, so, I felt obligated the whole time. There was no contact with my birth parents, no "programs" anyway, not like today, at all - no integration whatsoever within the native community in Calgary while growing up in all non-native foster situations. Later, while on my own healing journey I discovered first-hand growing up this way can lead to basic and complicated emotional issues around love, trust, abandonment, authority, self worth, identity, loss and grief and so much more.
It still seems to me people wield the term “culture” either as a weapon or something akin to a prized possession, a really nice shirt –“who in this room knows their culture?” or "who's the biggest Indian! - or, mine's bigger n yours!?" In its most common usage, context or understanding and in reference to 1st Nations people, it tends to mean language fluency, hunting/fishing, drumming or regalia focused activity (powwow/dancing) or time-immemorial-speak, featuring furry animals designed to encode how one should conduct themselves. I’d wager that little else enters the mind when one thinks of culture and a Native person. If you don't overtly display these items you are written off or disregarded as being "without culture" by both Native and Non (I'm generalizing, but it's the rule not the exception). While not growing up with the features listed can be tragic, sad, something to mourn, the fact is, I can still experience those things if I make the effort and get proper guidance in doing so, so I have not “lost’ them as I see it…But if, as I contend, we occupy one or more cultures simultaneously, where no one actually exists within a literal mono-culture then it is the everyday, mundane, banal experiences most people take for granted that I have missed most profoundly and can never get back. Loss of this part of my culture has been devastating. I will never know the sound of my mom’s voice, that voice which nurtures, soothes, comforts and guides people their whole lives. I don’t know either of my parent’s favorite songs or movies. I don’t know how they met. I don’t know which handed they were (their strong hand). I don’t know their favorite food. I don’t know what time of day I was born, who picked my name or why. I never held my dad’s hand, talked to him about the birds or the bees or how Crees came into the world. I never sat at a dinner table with either of my parents or any of my brothers and sisters, small talking, teasing, pretending to argue. I don’t know what either of their childhood’s looked like. I don’t know a world with Grandparents in it, I never met any of them. I don’t know what it’s like to see biological family spend time with my kids, just spending time. I remember observing my daughters through a bedroom window during an unguarded moment between them in Ottawa while they chatted and absent-mindedly volleyed a badminton bird back and forth. They were 14 and 11 years old. I can’t recall their words, just sound of their voices and, for me, the simple yet intense beauty of their kinship, their wit, their mutual affection and their perfect innocence. It was like an ache, but a good ache and it is locked safely in my memory. These and a thousand other basic, everyday experiences between any of my family or with any of my family – never to occur in this life. Never. The simple yet soul-nurturing events that happen a thousand times a day and are among necessities for life right alongside air, food and shelter are among what has been lost and what I’ve been most damaged by. Never mind the demoralizing facts of history, colonization, confederation, assimilation, death, disease, displacement, relocation, residential school, foster care, murdered and missing women and the accelerated rate of mortality of my people…and so much more. I could list so...much...more. Home?!?! Now that is an abstract concept and always changing for someone of my disposition, if there are such people . In my personal and professional experience I have consistently observed posers, frauds and people so desperate for validation they adopt "culture tunnel-vision" that is, canceling in their minds anything counter to the noble, stoic portrayal of the drumming, misplaced warrior learning from their elder that very morning that, you know, sketchy behavior, for instance, is - hello? - not cool, man! These professional, knowledge-keeper types do really well for themselves I've observed. The rest of us discounted for not embodying the soft inside, gentle, quiet, braided-being they prefer. I am more than happy to burst their lame bubbles and work frontline with individuals and families helping navigate urban wilderness. I work very very very hard to stay vigilant so I that I don't project all my "stuff' onto my girls. I find myself unable to even write this small note in one sitting as it is all enough to make me want to scream, still.
Near-constant mental processing and compartmentalization, endless self-talk, consistent reassurance to oneself that you count, that you are important, that you are loved, that things you do or say matter when any discussion turns to family, family history, culture, cultural awareness, teachings, elders and all the political and legal wrangling, which seem incessant subtext to these topics, is essential. I have teachings such as they are about an afterlife and have learned lots about ways of mourning, grieving and the rituals around them, why they matter and how they function as they do – these are clear, they are obvious. Will I ever see any of my family – like, in an “after-life” or "next life" of some sort? I do not take that kind of stuff for granted. I can't. In fact there are very few things I can take for granted. I believe I am skeptical (not cynical) by nature and suspicious by experience. I observe what people say and what they do and believe myself to have strong skills for thinking critically. If the question were put: what is your culture or what is culture to you? My response would be that culture is how I live everyday, the varied realities that I am engrossed in most often – the chosen communities where I live and work. My culture consists of all the relationships I engage in and the values that emanate but it is also involves the predominant thoughts and impulses I have around these ideas. Despair is never far away, still, after all this time, observant people see clearly my "fronts." But I work to understand myself in spiritual, essential terms not religious ones and it's crucial for me to have historical and political awareness and facts. I have worked exclusively with or for Native people and organizations serving Native people since '96. Wherever I am I go where Natives go, it just feels emotionally safer. I do modest ceremony, I get counseling (still), I stay connected to those I feel are authentic types...and yet I still often feel unworthy of bothering many bright elders I look up to - I am like a lot of other "scooped" people in this regard but I haven't stopped working on it. When does it change? Today, maybe? My inexhaustible hope is that my girls are careful observers and that they have the courage to think for themselves, that they take that very risk, so that much more truth, beauty and wisdom might come to them. This is the reality, the culture, and the salvation in which I strive daily to be immersed.
I despise the term "60's Scoop" or being referred to as a "Scooper" but I get it, people need a reference point. I do, however, want to indicate that authentic 1st Nations culture is REAL (language fluency, ceremonies, strong communities, families and individuals, all aspects, really) - it does exist and is alive, thriving, robust and in places amid all the areas I've designated above. This whole blog has been about the authentic culture that is every place one cares to really look and I am lucky to experience some of it.
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