Colleen Cardinal was just a baby when she and her older sisters were removed from their home in Edmonton and adopted by another family thousands of kilometres away in Ontario during the Sixties Scoop.
'Where are all these adoptees? I want to know who they are.' - Colleen Cardinal
She repatriated with her family at age 16 and initially thought what happened to her and her siblings was a rare case. It wasn't until she was 16 that she realized the magnitude of the forced removal of Indigenous children into foster care from the 1960s through the 1980s.
"When I found out about the Sixties Scoop I was just blown away that there was so many others," Cardinal told CBC Radio's All in a Day on Monday.
"Up to 20,000. That's an estimate. I wanted to find them all. Where are all these adoptees? I want to know who they are."
So now Cardinal, a Plains Cree woman from Saddle Lake Cree Nation, is embarking on a mapping quest like no other.
She is developing an interactive map of the Indigenous adoptee diaspora with the goal of tracking their movements within and outside of Canada to give Canadians a sense of the magnitude of what happened.
Cardinal is partnering with Raven Sinclair, head of the Pekiwewin project, who is also a Sixties Scoop adoptee.
The Sixties Scoop is one of the darkest moments in Canadian history but Cardinal hopes this project will "create some good" out of the blemish on Canadian-Indigenous relations.
"We have opportunities to share stories, help survivors find family members, to identify resources for survivors to come home, to repatriate with their families, their communities. But also to heal," Cardinal said.
Cardinal is looking for any survivors who are First Nation, Inuit, or Métis who were taken from their families to live with non-Indigenous families elsewhere in Canada, the U.S. or overseas. She said some Indigenous children were taken as far away as Australia and New Zealand.
They can visit niscw.org and submit information about their experiences.
The initiative initially started out solely as a mapping project but Cardinal also wants to connect survivors with resources for cultural support and counselling. Repatriating with birth parents isn't always a happy experience for some survivors, she said.
"A family that has grown up without you has moved forward without you who are still dealing with lots of issues of grief and shame and loss, and unresolved trauma, too," she said.
Cardinal said search giant Google has offered to help her get the project started. She hopes to have the map up and running by next spring.