timberland reading How a Regina family was torn apart
Michelle St. Germaine looks at the camera and smiles.
The 18 month old girl is seated and wearing a white dress and dress shoes in a portrait photo. There are also pictures of her three older siblings: Terry, Roberta and Denise. Each grins for the camera.
Roberta and Denise are wearing identical dresses and knee high socks. Their brother Terry wears a dress shirt and a bow tie. The photos resemble those taken by proud parents of their children.
Except this is an advertisement for the Adopt Indian Metis program (AIM) in a Sept. 20, 1967 issue of the Assiniboia Times newspaper. Their photos are located next to ads for men jackets, heavy duty filing cabinets and classifieds for local bridal showers.
The ad is titled there a home that needs a family? Interested couples of Roman Catholic faith, with or without children, are invited to inquire. The children names are even changed in the ad (Rose Marie, Deanna, Cindy and Bobby), a tactic used to make it more difficult for birth parents to find them.
Michelle and her siblings were eventually placed on a farm in southeast Saskatchewan, but isn exactly an accurate description of what awaited them.
wasn good, says Michelle, now 51, seated at the kitchen table in her Regina home.
were very physically abusive, she adds. was just like they adopted all of us kids to work on their farm. of her earliest memories of the farm is sitting on a platform towed by a tractor driven by her adopted father. She and her siblings were helping him plant evergreens on the farm.
was a hole in that platform, and we had to drop trees into that hole, and I can barely remember that, so they put us to work right away, recalls Michelle. must have been like three years old. family property stretched across 19 sections of land, where Michelle and her siblings did kind of work there is to do on a farm. say the work was accompanied by frequent beatings from their adopted father. Roberta, Michelle older sister, recalls one incident during the spring when she was 13 and chasing cattle up a hill.
An adoption ad featuring the St. Germaine siblings that appeared in a Sept. 20, 1967 issue of the Assiniboia Times newspaper. (Photo courtesy Assiniboia Times)
Photo courtesy Assiniboia Times
Roberta was up to her knees in mud when one of her boots fell off her foot.
I put a step back to try to put my foot back in my boot, and he whipped me. He whipped me on my back and I had to run around in my sock foot the rest of the way, says Roberta.
At some point, Roberta had enough. She describes an incident in which Terry lay on the floor in a Quonset as their father kicked him with steel toed boots. Seeing her brother rolled up into a ball while receiving the beating, Roberta attacked their foster father.
took one hand and I took the other hand and I just pounded his head, she remembers.
Roberta jumped off him and ran into the house, hoping to incur some of his wrath and save Terry from further blows.
It worked. Michelle remembers her father chasing Roberta into the house to begin beating her.
was very like living in fear most of our lives, says Michelle.
Their adopted father passed away in 2007. An obituary published in the Leader Post describes him as a devoted husband and father. It says he was survived by three children, but makes no mention his adopted, Indigenous children.
never once told us that they loved us, says Roberta. and her siblings never met their biological parents again until 14 years after their adoption. But even after she escaped the abuses of her adopted home, Michelle struggled with drug addiction, worked in the sex trade, served jail time and experienced the pain of being separated from her own children when they were taken into the custody of social services.
SCOOPEDThe St. Germaines are not the only ones with such a story. Hundreds of thousands of indigenous children in Canada were taken by child welfare workers during what is now called the Sixties Scoop, and many were placed into the care of white families.
Stories of abuse are pervasive among survivors, who became disconnected with their Indigenous heritage and grew up without knowing their natural parents.
In Saskatchewan, Indigenous children were adopted through AIM, a provincial child welfare program established in 1967.
Dr. She is currently a clinical preceptor at the University of Saskatchewan College of Medicine. She also instructs youth care workers at Saskatchewan Polytechnic.
Roberta St. Germaine in a photo taken on Aug. 2, 2017 (left) next to a photo of her when she was five that appeared in an adoption ad placed by the Adopt Indian Metis Program that appeared in the Sept. 20, 1967 issue of the Assiniboia Times.
Maurice estimates between 1,700 and 1,900 Indigenous children in Saskatchewan were put through the AIM program. They were adopted to families across Canada, as well as to the United States and European countries, such as Denmark.
She describes AIM as a program with good intentions, but one that was still an outright race based policy. With some Indigenous people unable to parent because of traumas they suffered in residential schools, the notion was that AIM would help their children. Instead, it severed another generation of Indigenous children from their families.
At the time, Maurice says the effects of intercultural adoptions was not given consideration. impact of that wasn really a high priority, she adds.
With the challenge of finding homes for so many children, AIM was formed from a two year grant provided by the federal and provincial governments. Part of the push to find children homes involved taking out ads in radio, TV and large print ads in provincial newspapers.