Sunday April 23, 2017

Filmmaker Tasha Hubbard's personal connection to the Sixties Scoop

Four siblings met in Calgary for the first time, a moment that was captured in Tasha Hubbard's documentary Birth of a Family.

Four siblings met in Calgary for the first time, a moment that was captured in Tasha Hubbard's documentary Birth of a Family. (National Film Board)

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Tasha Hubbard says that a good filmmaker is always on the lookout for the stories that "haven't happened yet."

In Birth of a Family, airing on CBC Docs POV, Hubbard documents three sisters and a brother who were adopted as infants into separate families meeting for the first time. It was a vulnerable moment and a personal one for the award-winning director.

Like the subjects of her film, Hubbard was adopted in the era known as the Sixties Scoop in Canada. It was a government-sanctioned program called AIM — Adopt Indian Métis children — and placed them with non-Indigenous families. Hubbard reconnected with her birth family when she was 16 years old.

"I was surrendered by my mother who was quite young. My birth dad was out east. She was on her own," Hubbard said.

"By the time I was ready to come into the world, there wasn't a lot of  support for her," she added. "I was picked up when I was three months old." 

It was that experience that allowed her to approach the story with some understanding.

Sitting across from strangers, but recognizing their features

"One of the things I asked the producers was to meet all of the siblings prior to their arriving in Calgary," Hubbard said. "I wanted them to know me when they stepped off the plane, so they could go on with their week together."

Hubbard said she shared her own story to establish a connection with the siblings.

"I know what it's like to sit across the table from a stranger but recognize yourself in their features," she said. "I have ten siblings I didn't grow up with."

Hubbard told the subjects of her film she lived on a farm with her adoptive family, who was very supportive when she began her own quest to find her birth parents.

"That helped," Hubbard said. "They trusted I knew what they were going through and would respect their story."

Tasha Hubbard

Tasha Hubbard is a documentary Cree filmmaker living in Saskatoon. (National Film Board)

At its core, Hubbard said, Birth of a Family is about sharing with the audience a pivotal moment in four adults' lives, without getting in the way. It's called observational documentary filmmaking. 

"I felt that [the siblings] were going to reveal this emotional and vulnerable time in their lives," Hubbard said. 

"This was a momentous occasion they won't get to have again, I didn't want the film to intrude on that."

Birth of a family

In 'Birth of a Family,' four siblings reunite after being adopted into separate homes as children. (mediaspace.nfb.ca)

In the film, a visit to Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum in Banff, AB., provided a brief but illuminating experience into the things that for many of the children in the Sixties Scoop were lost.

An elder took the siblings around the museum. For some of them, the played the hand drum for the first time, and learned the steps in tanning a hide. 

"It's also a moment where the enormity of what's been lost hits them," said Hubbard. 

A long process ahead

Hubbard said that she hopes the film provides a certain amount of understanding, not only for the children of the scoop, but the families who adopted them, as well as those who surrendered or had their children taken from them.

"It's a long process," she said. "I think people are just beginning to understand the effect of residential schools, and we still have people in prominent positions defending them. I think the same can be said for the child removal system."

"It's just getting started, and I think there are going to be those people who say 'they were better off.'"

Until there is a deeper understanding of the past, Hubbard said she will continue, through her films, to search for the stories that explain, and allow others to share their experience.

"As an adoptee, you're not always understood," she said. "My whole life I've found, or been found by others who have gone through [the same]. There's always this sense of connection because we understand. I hope even our own communities think about the effect."

For the full story watch Birth of A Family on CBC Docs POV.